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       Sojourner, p.1

           Michael J. Findley
 
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Sojourner


  Sojourner

  by

  Michael J. Findley

  copyright by Michael J. Findley 2010

  Sojourner

  by Michael J. Findley

  copyright by Michael J. Findley 2010

  No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. Exception is made for short excerpts used in reviews.

  Findley Family Video

  "Speaking the truth in love."

  This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons living or dead is coincidental

  Scripture references are as follows: The Bible: The king James Version, public domain. The New International Version, from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. The New American Standard Version: Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.

  One

 

  "Primary systems for braking thrust to establish parking orbit around Titan have failed. Switching to primary backup controls."

  Several seconds passed. Neither the husband nor the wife stirred in the darkness. The computer continued.

  "Backup systems for braking thrust to establish parking orbit around Titan have failed. Switching to redundant systems."

  "Not again," sighed Michele.

  She smiled weakly at Mark. Both jumped out of bed and dressed silently. The stark, straight, barren walls behind them began to glow with an even light. Mark and Michelle Connors were both in their early forties, alike enough to be brother and sister. Taller than average, they both had brown hair and blue eyes. Mark wore a brief beard, and Michele kept her hair long and loose.

  "How many times have all the automated systems failed?" asked Michele.

  "Fourth time since we left Martian orbit," said Mark.

  "But it hasn't failed completely this time. Yet."

  "Main redundant system has failed. Switching to reserve redundant system," said the computer.

  They grabbed their clothes and hurried into the darkened hallway. Walls began to glow as they ran past. Except for the monitors showing troubleshooting procedures, the control room was dark. It brightened evenly as they entered and sat at their respective control panels.

  "We've got a little less than four minutes before we'll have to scrub this approach," said Mark.

  "Reserve redundant system has failed," intoned the computer. "Do you want me to scrub this mission and compute a course back to Lunar Base? In twelve minutes, eleven seconds, we will be out of Martian Base contact. I will be unable to verify a new course without their assistance."

  "The oxygen's flowing to the firing chambers," said Mark. "It's the methane that's frozen in the lines somewhere. And it must be closer to the core. The only thrusters that will fire are the five now firing."

  "Thirty seconds until the close of this window," said the computer.

  "I don't like the idea of just the two of us going down there, cut off from everyone," repeated Michele.

  "That's the price of being the first," said Mark. "Besides, it really doesn't make any difference. Radio communication is almost four hours round trip."

  "I don't want to run into something and not even be able to warn anyone else," said Michele. "If we're going to die, I want our deaths to mean something."

  "This isn't a suicide run, Michele. We're not just running away from our debts. We're going to pick up this load of methane and go home. And we could send a message capsule back with complete records in a worst possible case scenario."

  "I'm sure the owners of the Cortez and the El Dorado felt the same way," Michele countered.

  "The window is closed," said the computer.

  "I thought we settled this before we left Mars," said Mark. "If those ships had been manned, they would have at least returned home. Even if we have to abandon the balloon ship, the life pod can get us home without any problems."

  "Without any problems? This isn't just everything we own. It's everything your Mom and Dad own and everything my family owns. It's everything a dozen families we've never met own. If this thing isn't full of methane, we might as well not go back. "

  A warning buzzer sounded and one point on the wireframe flashed. "Frozen methane," said Mark. "Not 50 meters from the living area. I'm going out there and hit it with a torch. We don't have time to warm up the tunnel. Computer, recalculate parking orbits that would begin braking thrust within the next forty-five minutes and report the four best. Honey, follow me on video."

  "Wear a suit. I don't trust those tunnels."

  "Computations for parking orbit will take seven minutes," said the computer. "I will not compute orbits that require firing thrusters earlier than the I can finish computations."

  "Whatever you say, Honey. But this is a nitrogen level. It couldn't be safer."

  Mark put on a light suit with feet, gloves and a clear bubble helmet. He pulled on the door, tried again.

  "Is that why the door's frozen?"

  Without responding, Mark lit a torch, touched the flame to the door and it slid open.

  "You're right," said Mark. "Check on the tubing to ensure that nothing else is frozen. Heat up anything that will be moving."

  As the door slid closed behind her husband, Michele turned and sat at the control panel. The colored wireframe showed each piece of mining equipment going through test motions.

  Mark's voice came over the speaker. "What's the temperature here?"

  Michele changed one monitor to watch her husband. Mark was heating the pipe as she called up the sensor readings. "Your suit's external sensor reads minus 31 degrees C," Michele spoke into the keyed mike. "We're radiating too much heat into space."

  "Heat leaks," said Mark. "Now we know what we'll be doing on the trip home. I really can think of more interesting things to do for six months than check for heat loss. But this is still way too warm for frozen methane."

  "And too close to the lifepod area," said Michele.

  "We've got to raise the core temperature," said Mark.

  "How much will that cost?"

  "Hopefully nothing," said Mark. "If we raise the temperature enough now, we can replace the methane before we leave."

  "Only if it's not mixed with too many other things," said Michele.

  "We can refine it."

  "You can refine it. All we have is a macrofilter for automatic filtration. I'm rather fond of at least a few hours sleep each day. Hey! Praise the LORD, the methane's flowing."

  "I can see it. I'm shutting down and I'll be right in. Get some sort of video on the main thruster."

  Michele adjusted the control panel to bring the main thruster into view.

  "Warning:" interrupted the Computer, "Titan's upper atmosphere is turbulent and uneven, with variations in uppermost methane levels as much as 20 kilometers. Turbulence could damage methane harvesting equipment."

  The door to the life pod area opened and Mark entered.

  "I heard," said Mark. "Have all sections of the mining equipment been tested?"

  Michele nodded in the affirmative.

  "Computations are complete," said the Computer. "Options are listed on monitor C."

  "I think," said Michele, "we should take the first option: Wait up until the thrusters fire. After the gravity shifts we can go back to sleep."

  "Agreed," said Mark. "We'll be braking continuously for 5 hours, 23 minutes. The shift to head into parking orbit will be 45 degrees. It will only be a ten degr
ee additional shift for the parking orbit. Remember our first shift? The one that threw us on the floor? It was only twelve degrees."

  "I don't care if it slaps us out of bed this time," snapped Michele. "I'm not strapping in!"

  Mark smiled and took Michele in his arms.

  "My my, aren't we a bit testy?"

  "I'm sorry," She squeezed and kissed him. "Forgive me, but months of the same thing -- I knew it'd be like this and we don't have any choices, but it's getting to me just the same."

  "The LORD has not left us," said Mark.

  "I know," said Michele. "But ... well ... there's just nothing we can do out here all alone."

  "Now that's not true," returned Mark. "There are some things we can do because we're alone."

  "Just wait until we're safely in the parking orbit," said Michele as she pushed away.

  "So you think the parking orbit around Titan will be safe?"

  Michele smiled. She programmed some course corrections and came back to Mark's arms.

  Two

 

  The darkened bedroom tilted with the deep moan of tortured metal. Mark grabbed both Michele and the bed to keep her from being thrown against the wall. The walls began glowing and the bedclothes slid to the floor.

  "Parking orbit established and stable. The time is 1930 hours," intoned the computer. "Awaiting further instructions."

  Michele and Mark looked at each other. Michele reached over to steady herself against a wall panel. The chronometer showed 2015 when they began to dress.

  "Please check to see if my baby sent us anything," asked Michele.

  "Our baby is in Junior High," responded Mark, "and he wouldn't talk to you
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