Excerpt for The Quest for Light Speed by
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L.S. 1

Book 1

The Quest for Light Speed



By

Bob and Penny Winter

Copyright 2017 Bob and Penny Winter

Published by Pens Ink

Smashwords Edition



Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This book is fiction

Other than references to historic persons, locations, and events any resemblance to any person or persons is accidental and unintended.



Table of Contents

Titles

Stories, Myths, and Legends

Forward

Chapter 1 - Mining Operations

Chapter 2 - Altered Reality

Chapter 3 - Making A Case For The DMD

Chapter 4 - Unusual Things

Chapter 5 - Resupply

Chapter 6 - DMD Testing

Chapter 7 - Finding Funding

Chapter 8 – Moving The Station

Chapter 9 - Arrival

Chapter 10 - Building And Rebuilding

Chapter 11 - Three Voyages

Chapter 12 - An Admiral’s Nightmare

Chapter 13 - The End of Jupiter 1

Chapter 14 - The Voyage Of The L.S. 1.

Epilogue

About the Authors

Coming Soon



Stories, Myths, and Legends

Since the dawn of mankind stories have served to preserve and pass knowledge from generation to generation. Each new telling helps preserve the culture and knowledge passed down by our ancestors and adds newly discovered knowledge to enhance the telling. Children the world over learn of their past, remember lessons sometimes painfully learned by their ancestors, and develop a knowledge base they can use to both inspire and mold their own futures and the evolution of mankind in the universe. Each of us owes our present knowledge and our very survival to the knowledge gained by our ancestors who dedicated their lives to the pursuit of knowledge that we may survive and have a more enjoyable, rewarding, and productive life than they. Our ancestors worked hard to entwine their knowledge into stories so their children and children’s children may benefit from their experience.

So gather around children young and old while we tell you a story.

Forward

The time

Once upon a time, in the not too distant future!

The situation

The International Navy Command is in charge of Space Operations for the I.S.A. the International Space Agency

The place

The Asteroid Belt beyond Mars, also known as the Hammered Bracelet, is a ring of space debris circling our Sun between Mars and Jupiter. It consists of planetary residue from either the birth of the solar system or a destroyed planet. It is rich in minerals and rare metals valuable and needed for mankind to bring back for construction uses on Earth and to efficiently expand space operations for continued exploration.

Chapter 1

Mining Operations

MS 25 is a typical half-mile long and quarter-mile high and wide sprawling and aging mining complex. It floats in space somewhat exposed within the asteroid belt in easy range of thousands of small and large asteroids, simply called rocks by the crew, over three hundred million miles from the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. While 25 is the largest complex, it is similar to all the other forty-nine mining sites. It is composed of multiple modules developed over decades not originally designed to fit together. The complex reminds one of a bunch of mismatched boxes tossed together in random order. Each box houses a rotating gravity simulating habitat to enable humans to exist in this most inhospitable and obviously dangerous environment for extended two year tours. Though noticeably mismatched, somehow the five hundred or so men and women crew of the station composed of Navy personnel and civilians make it all work, and the machinery hammers, clunks, grinds, and hums along in a sort of mechanical ever-changing song. Ore to process is supplied by a relentless stream of remote piloted mining drones operated, in Earth time measure, twenty four hours a day seven days a week. The openings to the processing mills remind the observer of active beehives. Such is the activity to produce the metals and minerals needed back at Earth. Twice a year cargo ships arrive with fresh supplies, new personnel, and plenty of space to haul the valuable cargo back to Earth. Each trip takes nearly a year to complete. And back on Earth a few engineers are busy designing ever-faster ships to make the voyages faster and safer. Their ultimate goal is to produce light speed transports to increase the economic benefit of the mining operations and potentially allow mankind to travel to far off star systems.

Some of the mining station habitats contain entertainment and recreation centers to assist in maintaining morale and promote physical and mental health of the crew. Sleeping habitats are equipped with individual areas giving each crewmember some private space and time. He or she can select view screens on all walls to display real time streaming video and audio from specific locations on Earth. Selections are numerous like mountain scenes, ocean beaches, or cityscapes to surround them with real time images of home. Married members of course can visit in real time with their family back on Earth as well.

Most movement between modules is through voice programmable spherical pods inside air powered transfer tubes that would remind one of clear hamster playground tubes back on Earth. Emergency exits allow movement via exterior roof mounted mono rail cars after personnel don their environment suits and climb to the roof to access the cars.

Master control and Command Center 1 sits atop the entire complex. The roof is a bristling mess of antennas and cameras pointing in all directions. A second Command Center 2 is located under the facility and equipped with its’ own array of antennas and cameras to provide a full spherical view of space above and below the complex.

Which is top and bottom of the complex depends upon one’s perspective at the time. Generally, the top is considered to be the side closest to the North Star. Three-dimensional space can truly mix up one’s mind. Very few candidates who apply for duty are able to pass the mental and physical required tests. Thus the crew of each station represents the best of humanity from most every country on Earth. Even so, a crewmember may develop space sickness and become unable to perform their duties efficiently and sometimes not al all. This is often due to depression or spatial disorientation that results in an individual’s inability to respond rationally either interpersonally or to responsibilities of the position held. Though rare, it is the most serious illness encountered at all the sites and occasionally during the long transport trips out and back.

A sailor with three stripes twenty six year old brown haired brown eyed Tod Tillerman, a maintenance tech, had his five foot 11 inch lean muscular body jammed between two rows of machines installing updates to some flight consoles in Command Center 1. Fifty plus mining drone pilots and several staff officers were busy at work. Tod looked up suddenly as an alarm sounded. He quickly scanned the many screens in front of the circle of drone pilots looking for what was wrong. He saw the problem on screen 20. A big rock had moved quickly into the area dangerously close to the station. It was being moved and for some reason it had split into several large and smaller chunks. The drone pilot, Sean Jorgenson, known to all as Jorgi, attempting to move the rock sat looking at the screen and failed to move. Jorgi was not far away and Tod started moving toward him quickly while other pilots too busy to move yelled at him to respond. In seconds several available auto drones responded and grabbed onto some of the pieces steering them away. But one large bulky chunk appeared to be coming right at the facility. Again, Tod asked Jorgi to grab the big rock. He sat motionless just starring at the screen. Tod pushed Jorgi’s chair back and looked directly at him. He sat as if frozen in place unresponsive. His face resembled the void of deep space. Tears filled his terrified eyes and ran in rivers down his cheeks. Tod pushed him chair and all aside, squatted down with his feet on the control pedals, and grabbed the twin control yokes. Instantly the drone responded to his commands and attached itself to the front of the big rock. It was closer now and Tod could tell it was the size of a small shuttle. It dwarfed the drone, but he had to try. Someone from behind Tod slammed a chair under his butt. Without looking back he said. “Thanks.” He gave the drone full braking thrust commands over and over. The rock began to turn and slow a bit, but was still on track to hit the station.

He heard a command from behind him boldly ordering someone. “LOWER THE STATION – NOW!” Instantly the entire complex began to shake and heave as the thrusters fired above all the modules at once. It felt like the 5.5 Earthquake he had felt while visiting his Aunt and Uncle back on Earth years ago. But, the rock was too close. It hit a glancing blow to one of the outer most modules, and began slowly tumbling steady on toward the command module. It damaged two more modules as it approached. Tod watched intently. The drone was now on top of the rock if he fired the drone would pull away. He had to wait. Seconds later the drone was in front of the rock and Tod fired the drone’s vertical down thrusters at once at full power. He kept the thrusters at full power as the rock slowed, but continued to roll putting the drone under the rock, and then Tod fired the reverse thrusters to attempt to slow the rolling of the rock and keep the drone and its’ thrusters under the rock hoping the rock would rise up. It was slowly rising as the station continued to shake, pop, groan, twist and slowly move downward. The rock was coming right at the top mounted cameras obscuring all the pilot’s views on that side. Most drone pilots were now watching the huge rock come right at them. Their monitors blurred with the image as it quickly approached. It would be close and the drone’s thruster exhaust, combined with the station thrusters, was fogging the view as the monster rock reached the command center. It was moving slower and more quickly upward in view, but would it be enough?

The last views from the cameras showed only the surface of a large rock coming right at them. A collision warning sounded a deafening scream. All the air locks slammed shut with resounding metallic thuds! Environment suits automatically dropped down beside each of the pilots’ stations. Several more dropped down for the administrative and support personnel. Not a person moved. All sat glued to their monitors, or motionless where they stood. The effort was not enough and the rock hit with a glancing blow.

The command center shook, and heaved with the impact. All cameras went dead and the roof panels caved downward in several places. The rotation of the habitat hesitated, and shook several pilots from their chairs. But the atmospheric membrane held, and no penetrations appeared. The habitat did not fully stop rotation and quickly returned to normal speed, which surprised everyone. Seconds later back up cameras from lower elevations came on line. Tod switched to the rear view camera and followed the rock now moving quickly away. Surprisingly, the drone was still attached and appeared undamaged. He quickly gained control of the drone, and gently slowed the big rock. Finally, he guided the rock a short safe distance away and parked it where it could later be mined and its’ minerals salvaged.

The emergency was over! Alarms were silenced! Moments later the air locks once again opened and were operational.

Tod stood up expecting to just walk away as if nothing had ever happened. As he turned, he found himself face to face with the station Commander a formidable man matching Tod in height in his fifties. He was fit and trim with stern looks, crew cut light brown hair and penetrating dark blue eyes that made one feel like they were being pierced by lasers.

Tod felt his heart skip a beat or two. He instantly assumed attention posture as best he could.

“Who gave you permission to pilot that drone?”

“No one Sir, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”

"Where did you learn to pilot a mining drone?"

“Well Sir, I am one of the men who maintain the drone simulators and they need to be tested after maintenance to insure they are fully operational.”

“I see, great job, Tod isn’t it?”

“Yes Sir."

The Commander looked around the room. “Carry on gentlemen and get me a damage report ASAP.”

The Commander walked over to an elevator pod and sat down, voiced his destination, closed the door, and was whisked away into the center vertical egress tube. He was gone in seconds.

After the Commander left all stood up and gave Tod heart felt applause. As he attempted to return to his maintenance duties the com center C.O. looked at him. “Take your seat sailor we need you more on that drone right now.”

Tod took Jorgi’s spot, quickly noted the order for the shift and looked on briefly as two Marine medics came to escort Jorgi to medical. The blank stare seemed frozen on his face. They rolled him still in his chair to the pod and gently moved him to the pod chair and strapped him in. Seconds later they were gone.

Hours later Tod was awakened from a well-deserved sound sleep. The com in his sleeping quarters was blasting a command. “Sailor Tillerman report to the Commander’s office NOW!” Tod rolled over, gazed longingly at the streaming Hawaii beach display, and sat up. A small corner inset video showed red-hot lava pouring into the Pacific Ocean in the distance. “Damn!” He groaned. “Now what? He said I did good, but I broke regulations to do it. Time to pay the piper I guess.”

He looked at the streaming red-hot magma inset. “Right, ya do good and still get burned.”

Unshaven, covered in sweat, groggy and still in his wrinkled uniform Tod entered the office. He braced himself emotionally for whatever punishment the Commander might find fitting for his breach of regulations.

He told himself. “Well Tod, ya have really done it this time!”

“Tillerman reporting as ordered Sir.”

The Commander stood and approached Tod then began strongly voicing his concerns and displeasure.

“You, sailor, are truly a sorry sight. You are a disgrace to look at. You make decisions on your own that affect the safety of the entire facility. And impulsively you operate equipment and vehicles for which you are not certified.” The Commander paused to take a breath.

“Well Sir, I - -.”

“Do not interrupt me when I am taking.”

“Yes Sir.”

“I said do not interrupt me!”

Tod made a gesture of zipping his lip.

“For the record the report will in fact show you were qualified to operate the drone, and we in command are in error for not issuing you that certification. That is being taken care of as we speak. You will report to the drone training area tomorrow at 08:00 hours in a clean uniform I might add. That is unless you do not wish to do so? We are in need of talented drone pilots. As you know, we lost a sleeping habitat. Two of our pilots were killed, and four more are in medical with severe injuries. In short Tod we need you. And in face of that monster coming right at you, you remained focused, steady and deflected it enough to save many lives. You did good and when you return to Earth a medal will be waiting. Now what were you going to say?”

“Well, eh, thank you Sir. I will do my best”

“I have every confidence. Any questions?”

“Sir what about the pilot, Jorgi, who froze?”

“Jorgensen, he has been here for the past twenty two months and is due to cycle out on the next transport. We never know who or when a good man will be reduced to tears here in space. It can happen to any of us. And not one of us, myself included, will even feel it coming. So take care of yourself Tod. Jorgenson will be just fine in time. Our review of the event shows that even if he had responded immediately the rock still would have hit us. We will let him know that when he comes out of his trauma.”

“I see you are cross qualified in three areas; Electrical Technician, Sim Maintenance, and Cook. Cook! Why Cook?”

“I love to cook Sir. I find it relaxing and rewarding. But I would warn you about the beans from our kitchen.”

“Why is that?”

“It is a large but not too large a facility we live in out here Sir. Most everyone will know you are coming, or at least where you have been!”

The Commander began to smile. “Dismissed sailor, now get your butt out of here. Get cleaned up and take some personal time. Visit the theme park or take a plunge in a mountain pond or wave pool.”

Pausing for a moment the Commander continued. “Perhaps you would like access to the kitchen? I’ll see what I can do about that as well. But don’t let the time in the kitchen detract from your required gym time. Remember, stay in shape - stay alert – stay alive. Those posters are not all over the complex just to stop air leaks!”

Tod paused for a second to respond as he was entering the exit pod. “That would be great Sir. Right now I would find it much more relaxing than being tossed around in the wave pool. And, yes, I do hit the gym regularly!”

Tod programmed the tube pod for Laundry. He decided to get fresh uniforms on the way back to his quarters. The attendant gave him his bundle. Tod noticed four stripes on the shirts.

“You gave me the wrong uniforms.”

“No I didn’t, four stripes right?”

“No, mine are three.”

“Not any more, see here!”

The attendant showed Tod a paper signed by the Commander for the promotion.

”The old man works in surprising ways sometimes doesn’t he?”

Tod smiled at the attendant as he headed back to the pod to continue to his quarters. He stopped the pod half way. “Hmm,” he wondered. “Kitchen!” He selected kitchen address and was surprised to hear. “Kitchen access granted do you wish to proceed?”

“No.”

Tod returned to his quarters, cleaned up and put on a fresh uniform. “Now,” he thought. “I think I’ll go check out the kitchen.”

Stepping out of the pod into the kitchen, the aroma of freshly baked bread met him. Instantly he remembered back in time to his Aunt Nellie’s kitchen where he learned to bake and cook. He thought about that morning when he brought her some dandelion blooms from the as yet unplowed grain field so she would have plenty of flour to make some bread that day. “My, my thank you,” she said. “But we will put these in water and use some other flour to make the bread you will see.”

He grinned to himself as he remembered standing on her kitchen stool punching the wonderful smelling bread dough down with his small fists as hard as he could over and over. He made a mess as the loosely sprinkled flour spread out to keep the dough from sticking to everything including his small hands flew off the counter in all directions like small puffs of clouds. Visions of his aunt just smiling and laughing as they wiped it all up momentarily filled his mind.

Immediately a member of the kitchen staff looked up more than a bit surprised. “Who the blazes are you and what are you doing here?”

Tod stood still staring at a young man his own height and build but with short dark hair and hazel eyes. “Tillerman, and I have access”

“Not to my knowledge you don’t. I don’t care how many stripes you have.”

“Please check your access list and verify my status. I’m not here to cause any problems for you.”

The cook’s helper looked at the access list screen. “Well pardon me, your access was approved about an hour ago. You certainly move fast.”

“I have some free time and thought a snack would be good.”

“What‘s wrong with the selections out in the cafeteria?”

“I have some favorites and would prefer to fix my own from fresh ingredients!”

“That’s OK with me. Says here you have full access. Knock yourself out. Names Ben. The manual ovens are in the second row. Right now the auto-ovens are all in use.”

“I’m Tod. Glad to meet you. And I am a bit old fashioned. I prefer the manual ovens anyway.”

“Tillerman right? Like a man who steers an old sailing ship? Associations help me remember names.”

“Yep, not too many people get that connection. Some generations back my dad’s ancestors were just that and the name stuck. More recently men who steer ships are called helmsmen. Any way now it is just a name that I am stuck with. It’s as good as any I guess.”

“Mine’s Puckerson. Try living with that.”

Tod smiled wildly. “I cannot begin to imagine!”

“Well it has sort of evolved. As a boy I was more than a bit tubby. The guys nicknamed me Hockey Puck for a while, but more recently, after I lost the baby fat, my friends call me Pucky. And the ladies seem to find it cute.”

“Well, Pucky, that can’t be too upsetting.”

Pucky gave Tod an affirming grin.

Spending some time in the kitchen using the manual ovens, Tod made some very tasty peach turnover treats he shared with his new friend.

“Where did you learn to cook? This is really good.”

“My aunt taught me starting when I was five. Mind if I check out the menus and baking instructions on the auto ovens.”

“No, be my guest, but if you change anything cook Shaver will nail my hide to one of those rocks out side.”

“I see beans are scheduled for part of tomorrow’s late shift supper.”

“Yeah, Shaver loves beans. He insists they are a good balance between protein and carbs.”

“Well, if you don’t mind I’d like to change the cooking schedule for them and hope you will not squeal on me.”

“I’ve been hoping someone would. We have more complaints about them than any other menu item. Go ahead. If he finds out I’ll be completely surprised and mum. Master Chief Shaver is the only one allowed to program the auto-ovens.”

Tod read the instructions. “Pour bulk dry beans as received into the oven fill reservoir.” The automatic preparation program indicated. “Load 20 lb of beans, add water to level, soak for three hours, drain, add water, pressure cook for one hour, drain and serve.”

Tod changed the cook cycle for more soak time with soda, more rinses, and then added more soda and a final rinse and cook cycle.

“That should help tone them down some.” “Let me know how it works out”

“Sure will, Shaver’s last duty station was on a surface aircraft carrier in the Pacific. I bet they filtered out the methane, compressed it and used it for Jet fuel”

“He has told me time and time again. “Just make it hot and serve it. We are cooks not chefs at some resort!””

Tod smiled as he entered the exit pod. “See you later Pucky.”

Earlier, after Tod left his office, the Commander picked up his com unit and punched a red button.

“Earth control – MS 25”

“Go head MS 25”

“Commander Harrington here, we’ve sustained significant damage and some casualties! Connect me to the Admiral!”

Chapter 2

Altered Reality

Just before O8:00 hours Tod arrived at the drone training module. “Tillerman reporting for training as ordered.”

A powerfully built middle-aged six-foot tall stern looking civilian instructor looked Tod over from head to toe. He walked slowly around Tod not saying a word. Then once again squarely in front of Tod about a full pace away he broke the uneasy silence. “So this is what a hero looks like?”

“Not a hero Sir, just a guy saving my skin and others with me as best I could.”

“Don’t call me Sir. To quote an old saying, I just work here. Call me Ron and we will get along much better.”

“Great Ron, where are the rest of the group?”

“You’re it for this session Tod. According to the old man and your records you are already familiar with the drones, and I am to check you out for any potential weak areas and get you certified ASAP. I bet you know what a Runner is!”

“That’s for sure as you know I stopped my first real one yesterday. They are rocks that for any number of reasons take off uncontrolled and pilots are not to let any part of them get away.”

“Right, and what are the semis?”

“Each pilot has four semi autonomous chase drones to help control any runners. Once a semi attaches and stops a runner, the pilot can tell it where to deposit the rock or carefully put it back out in the belt for later assessment.”

“I see you have extremely high sim scores, but don’t let that go to your head. Sims are not real.

“Sim scores? I erased them every time after my maintenance testing was complete.”

“Not on my console you didn’t. Only one other pilot has higher sim scores than what you racked up over the past year.”

“Who was that?”

“Sure you want to know? If I tell you it must not be let out.”

“I can keep it under wraps.”

“Jorgenson. He has a 22-month average of 97 percent. Yours was 95 percent. The closest to you two was two rotations back a guy called Edmund at 94 percent for his full two year tour.”

“Jorgi? He snapped yesterday. Why was that if he is so good?”

“Well sometimes the best are wound up so tight it is only a mater of time until something gives. He was close to rotating out and spent more and more time on the sims. I think he was hoping to insure he lived until he could rotate back. And as I look at his logins he started trading time off to relax for more time on the sims. It seems to me he was becoming more and more anxious the closer he got to rotation. It appeared he did not want to make any last minute mistakes that would mess up or blemish his exceptional record. And he has a wife and two children back on Earth. I’m sure that had some part in his event. In short, he drove himself to the wall.”

“I remember him calling me for maintenance when his flight console seemed the slightest bit off. His call to me was usually a couple of microseconds after he noticed something. I see what you mean.”

“That’s right. And Tod you have a potential problem as well that you may not be aware of.”

“What would that be?”

“Microsecond? That was a technician response. You have been a tech for so long you may think like a tech first and as a drone pilot second in some situation that might result in a botched decision. You need to watch for that potential. If you find yourself thinking about how the drone operates and what you would do to repair it, stop thinking about that and just fly the damn thing. You will be either a technician or a pilot, but you will not do anyone or yourself justice if you try to be both at the same time. I see you are also a cook so just think of it as a recipe for disaster.”

“Point taken and thanks for the heads up. I had not thought of that.”

“The Commander did! He specifically asked me to be sure I thought you could make the transition. He told me what you did under extreme stress and I am inclined to agree that you will be the one in a thousand who can make the switch. Just watch it and be self aware.” Ron paused for a few seconds. “Ok, so much for the attitude lecture. I have a small partially mined rock parked a short distance away out side and you need to show me what you can do with it.”

They moved to a flight console to fly a real time drone outside the facility. Tod sat at the controls. “What is the order of the shift?”

“The old borehole needs to be filled and sealed. See what you can do with it.”

Tod maneuvered the drone to the rock and inspected a borehole. He found an autonomous mining robot inside and used the controls to command the “M Bot” to exit for extraction. He grabbed the M Bot with the remote arm and delivered it to the staging area. Next he piloted the drone to the holding area for mine tailings and loaded a large enough bag to fill the borehole. Then he returned the drone to the rock, attached the drone, extended the borehole seals and deposited the tailings. Finally, he used the laser to seal the hole. It all took about a half hour. Tod made very sure no mine tailings escaped to become space debris. He and every crewmember knew that the tailings had to be returned to the rocks to not only keep from making a mess of space, but also keep the rocks near their original mass to help insure they stayed put. Changing the mass of the rocks made them very unstable and they could move unexpectedly. The rocks moved around enough without having the mining create more instability.

Ron looked on watching every move. “That’s the way it is done, great job”

As Tod started to get up he saw the rock split into five pieces before his eyes. Instinctively he sat back down and sent the drone to the largest piece of rock and secured it while the semis, appearing seconds later, each grabbed onto a smaller chunk. Tod instructed the semis to deposit their loads at a staging area. And, after using remote mineral analysis, Tod guided his drone to deposit the largest part at the platinum extraction mill. He waited for a few minutes until a small particle sensor equipped free roaming semi with a net came and cleaned up the remaining small debris. Not once did Tod ask for any instructions from Ron. He had been around the drone pilots enough to know full well that they needed to make all the normal decisions themselves. And this was just a normal event in a drone pilot’s job as he knew it.

Once done Tod again parked the drone. He turned to Ron and asked. “Was that planned or did we just have a real set of runners?”

“Well, let’s just say that will be my secret. But you did handle it extremely well. Now for the final item we need to inspect the drone.”

Tod and Ron donned environment suits equipped with thruster packs, exited the air lock, and traveled to the drone parked a short distance off in zero gravity.

“Part of being a remote pilot, Tod, is inspecting the drone before and after each flight to insure it is safe to operate.”

At the drone they inspected the topside the movable arm, its attachments, and all four thrusters. Then they moved to one side and circled the craft inspecting the four thrusters on each side and two on each end. Completing the tasks they inspected the bottom load carrying and rock securing attachments sealing laser, and all four thruster as well.

Tod saw a small rock jammed between some metal and deposited it in a collection net. Free roaming cleaning drones would collect it later. Next he visited the onboard controls along with Ron and they flew around in the drone manually for a few minutes. Finally, Tod parked the drone at a fueling station for compressed hydrogen refill. The final item was to move the drone back to the staging area ready for the next use. With the inspection complete and the drone parked, the two jet-packed back to the air lock. Once inside they went through biohazard scanning before moving on to the atmospheric chamber where they could remove the suits.

“Well Tod that is what you need to do before and after each shift. If you find any problems with your drone report it immediately to maintenance. They will perform any needed maintenance. You may be tempted to do some work yourself, but that is no longer your primary task. Remember that, your reality is now changed.”

“Thanks Ron, I definitely will.”

”Congratulations.”

Ron handed Tod two gold lapel pins with a drone inside a circle inscribed “Drone Pilot”.

“Thanks and it is great meeting you Ron.”

Tod fumbled trying to put the pins in the lapel.

Ron stepped forward. “Here, let me help you with that. Normally we would have a ceremony but we are short handed. The facility is damaged and we all need to simply keep working to keep everything in order. The Commander told me he hopes to get a re-supply ship a couple of months earlier than schedule. We lost some critical supplies as well as two good men.”

“What was lost?”

“That rock you diverted took out an empty food warehouse module and a full food storage module. We lost most of the frozen meat and some of the frozen green veggies. We were already somewhat low and expecting our normal re-stock on schedule

Sorry Tod, no more late night chocolates for anyone.”

“Well let’s hope the ship arrives early. Our cook has some unusual ideas on how to manage a kitchen. I am not sure what he will do in a critical food shortage situation. And I for one do not want to find out.”

“Nor do I. We’re done here so take some personal time and report to Com 1 for drone operations at 08:00 hours tomorrow.”

For the next few days Tod reported as required to his new duty station. He mined ore, inspected the drone as required and settled into a new reality for himself. He definitely found it more stressful than his maintenance duties, but more rewarding in the fact that every move of the drone provided potential challenges to his piloting skills. Truly the sims are not real, but the techs programming them did the best they could. Tod made notes after every shift to help the programmers especially Lieutenant Fos, do a better job. He asked other pilots if any of them had seen Jorgi. A couple had and told him Jorgi was not really doing very well. Jorgi would be in medical for a required minimum of fourteen days. And that was about half gone.

Day seven, after duty and with twelve hours free time, Tod stepped into the transfer pod closed the door and started to select his quarters, but thought better of it. “Medical.”

“Medical access granted. Do you wish to proceed?”

“Yes.”

“Destination medical reached. Low gravity, watch your step."

Seconds later Tod stepped out of the pod into the medical reception area. Muted white from the floor to the ceiling met his gaze. The low indirect lighting was sufficient, but produced a sort of unreal glow. Even the chairs were a flat white. They were more obvious but still white. He was very surprised to find not one wall display screen was present. Just white everywhere! “Good grief,” he though. “Where have I landed?” He stepped forward and nearly launched himself several feet. “Ooops,” he mumbled to himself. “Reduced rotation I need to step lightly here.”

He noticed a reception counter nearby and a nurse standing with her back to him. “Tod Tillerman to see Jorgenson if he can receive visitors."

A tall lean woman in a stark white nurse uniform behind the brilliant white reception counter slowly tuned to face him. Tod looked up about two inches to meet her dark eyes. Her bold featured face seemed capable of every emotional expression except a happy smile. Tod matched her icy cold stare and seeming distrust for a few seconds.

“Do you know Jorgenson?”

“Yes, we worked together, and I was nearby when he developed his problem.”

The nurse responded in her mild but stern and commanding voice. “Have a seat and I will get back to you shortly.”

She walked away through a white door into what seemed to be an office. A few minutes later she motioned for him to come.

“Go inside the doctor would like to talk with you about Jorgenson.”

Inside Tod found the doctor, also dressed in stark white, standing behind his white desk motioning for him to sit.

“I understand you were present when Jorgenson had his unfortunate event?”

“Yes I was only a few feet away.”

“How well do you know him?”

“I was his maintenance technician for the past year. We spoke mostly during shift about his flight console and maintenance on his drone ship.”

“Can you tell us more about your relationship with him and what you may know about his personal life?”

“Doctor, in all due respect, all I came here for was to see Jorgi and talk with him. Perhaps help if I can. I did not expect to be grilled about him or my life history.”

“Settle down sailor, we are having a difficult time reaching him emotionally. Jorgenson, Jorgi, seems to think he is dead. He thinks he is in some processing area waiting to be judged for his mistakes.”

“That is a bit surprising, but not too far out for him. You see Jorgi is a really driven guy and takes any mistake he may believe he made very seriously.”

“Tod, is it?”

“Yes Doctor.”

“Well Tod, we have seen the replay of the event many times and have assured him that he was not at fault for anything that rock did. But for some reason he will not talk about it with us.”

“Well, doctor, he probably thinks you are some sort of judge and he will most likely keep up his emotional wall for who knows how long. I can understand the reduced gravity to reduce pain and promote healing, but why an all white facility?”

“White is Navy regulations. Studies show it is more soothing to the average patient. Many react poorly to specific colors and until we get a good analysis of each patient the general facility is white. Individual patient areas are then colored to help them recover. So far we have no idea how to reach your friend Jorgi.”

“Yeah, I remember being asked my favorite color when I joined the Navy. But now I don’t care for orange like I once did.”

“Exactly, so we keep things mute until we know we are not going to display what we refer to as a Trigger Color. It’s ok if you wish to see him. We do not find him a threat to himself or others. He just seems to mill around muttering to himself. He sits in group therapy, but will not take part. Perhaps a more familiar face may help him come out of his shell. His only other two visitors left after a few minutes talking with him. I hope you can get past his strange idea of where he is. Neither of them visited again.”

“Does he seem to have a trigger color?”

“Not that we can determine we have shown him many color charts. He seems mostly just disconnected with reality.”

“May I take him for a bit of recreation or something to get him into a seemingly friendlier environment?”

“Sure, if he wants to go with you, just sign him out with you as his guide and please watch him carefully. Do not stay out past 22:00 hours. We lock down then. As you should know it is for his as well as all our security and protection out here.”

Tod left the office and found Nurse “Thunder Bolt”, as he had quickly named her to himself, standing with Jorgi close to the egress pod. Jorgi was dressed in a cool white uniform and nearly matched the wall behind him. His face was pale and nearly expressionless. But he did seem to brighten a bit when he saw Tod.

Jorgi had small tears welling up. “Hey Tod, did you die too? I am so sorry man.”

Tod thought for a second. He remembered working as an orderly in a psych ward back on Earth to earn money for electronic training. The last thing he wanted to do was say anything to upset Jorgi.

Casually and pushing his hair back Tod answered. “I’m not really sure, but we can talk about that if you would take a pod ride with me.”

“That would be great. I think they do not really know how to help me go beyond from here. How many died from that big rock? Svenson and Harris were here a couple days ago, but they seem to have gone beyond already.”

“Why do you think they have gone beyond?”

“They only stayed briefly, said good bye, and have not come back.”

“That makes perfect sense. Well anyway why don’t we get out of this place and I will show you around.”

“I get it you are to be my guide to help me go beyond. I was wondering who it would be.”

Tod signed them out and they both took the same pod. In a few seconds the pod deposited them at Rec 5. Instantly, all the colors of the rainbow filled their eyes. The sound and aroma of seawater filed their remaining senses. Tod watched Jorgi intently. But his expression did not display any sense of alarm.

“I do not remember this being in my reality. What is this place? I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“It is a wave pool. Watch the water. It swells up and rolls from one end to the other. See that guy in front of that wave? Watch as he swims to catch the front of the swell and then body surfs down the front of the wave. It is lots of fun and we need to get in and try it. Come on and let’s go change.”

Jorgi protested a bit, but Tod insisted and they wound up changed and standing near the wave start end.

“Ok Jorgi jump in and I will follow right behind.”

“I’m not too sure about this. I may fall right through into eternity. And I’m just not too sure about that yet. The doctors or angels if that is what they really are have not told me yet where I am headed. Up or down, I really messed up you know.”

Tod reacted playfully. “Jorgi, for the moment I am your guide and I can show you where you are headed just trust me!”

Tod reached over and pushed Jorgi fast forward into the water. Then he jumped in right behind but a short distance away. Jorgi came up sputtering first.

As Tod surfaced Jorgi asked. “What did you do that for you could have drowned me. Some friend you are!”

Tod smiled widely as they both treaded water. “Oh, so you are not dead after all. Start swimming or we will miss the wave. Come on let’s go for it."

Swimming fast both caught the wave and wound up being tumbled on the short sandy beach not far off. Both sat up laughing!

“Really Tod, Why did you push me in? I could have had a worse problem?”

“Well we are in the Navy. We are supposed to love water. And besides it seemed like a good idea at the time. I have been doing a lot of that lately. I just needed to get your full attention before I show you what happened to you. I am probably the only one who truly knows. And I only found out yesterday.”

“Great, now that I am not dead, I will probably loose my drone and be sent home to receive a medical discharge. Did they give it to you? I saw the pins on your uniform.”

“Nope, your position is not filled. We lost two good men and four more are in medical. One will not return because he lost his left hand just above the wrist. The docs will fit him later with a mechanical, but he will be out for the rest of his tour. You still have a week to spend in medical so they can evaluate your condition. And, you need to know just what happened so you will not do it again.”

“Do what again?”

“Push yourself into an emotional wall and freeze.”

“I did? Yeah, I guess you are right maybe I did.”

After catching a few more waves Jorgi indicated he was sure he was alive and might truly drown if he continued.

Tod responded. “Me to, now lets go get dressed and I will show you exactly what happened.”

A short time later Tod and Jorgi were dressed sitting at a table in the kitchen cafeteria.

“I think I am beginning even feel more alive. This place is very familiar. Food right?”

With perfect timing Pucky showed up with two specially made peach turnovers and offered them to the two.

“Hi Tod. Who is your friend? He has been here before, but I never met him.”

“Pucky, this is Sean Jorgenson, Jorgi, we call him. We pilot drones together. He had a minor problem, wound up in med and I just dragged him out for some freedom and exercise. Jorgi, this is Ben Puckerson known as Pucky."

Jorgi stood and shook Pucky’s hand and both sat down.

“Tod I hope you like these. I did my best to follow the recipe you gave me. The hardest parts were getting the crust to be light and flaky and then that sweet topping sauce made with a small bit of Shaver’s cooking cherry, some All Spice, Clove, and Cinnamon was tricky.”

Tod and Jorgi both bit into their triangular pastries. Tod instantly gave an approving look.

Jorgi’s look was more of extreme surprise.

“This is your doing Tod? Now I know this is not heaven. The taste is far too sinful. Pucky, this is truly wonderful thank you. You may not know just how much this really helps me. Like Tod told you I had a problem arise a few days ago and my mind is just now beginning to come back to a sense of normal.”

“A touch of space sickness I bet?”

“Something like that I guess. It was really sort of weird. I blinked out and when I woke up I thought I was dead!”

Pucky gave him a wide grin. “Well Jorgi, don’t let that bother you too much I see most everyone come through here, and I can tell you a lot of them are a bit sick and strange acting and with too much ego to admit it. You two enjoy and I’m back to work.”

Tod revealed the source of the sinful turnovers. “The recipe is actually from my Aunt Nellie back on Earth. I linked with her a couple weeks back to see what we could use to make the Liquor sauce she used from the family corporate farm. She showed me how to do it in real time right from the family kitchen. I could almost taste it. So we have her to thank not me.”

Jorgi took the last big bite and savored it for a few minutes. “OK now that you really have my undivided let’s discuss what happened.”

“Tell me what you remember.”

“I was maneuvering the drone to the side of the incoming rogue rock. I wanted to secure to it and use the thrusters to move it away from the station. It was obviously too close to mine. I remember the drone starting to attach. As usual I had the drone screens showing and a slightly zoomed view of the rock from the upper Com 1 cameras to keep me informed of the overall location. Then for some reason the rock just sort of exploded. The drone view vanished and the camera view suddenly showed the rock accelerating right at us. Then everything went black. I woke up in some sort of white room. I had on white clothes and the bed had all white coverings. Light came from everywhere around and yet from nowhere. As I tried to get up I almost floated off the bed. It was really strange and a bit frightening to me. I sat on the edge of the bed thinking of what happened. I remembered the rock coming at the camera and then all went black. Next everything was total white and I was almost floating. I was so sure I was killed instantly. And I was in a place in heaven or some place like that waiting to see what would happen next. I felt really bad because I just knew my failure had killed everyone in Com 1 and perhaps the entire population of M 25. Nothing around me told me anything else. The nurses came in all dressed in white and asked me a lot of questions and told me I was not to blame for what happened and needed rest. I did not tell them immediately I thought they were angels. I was waiting for them to tell me where I was. Finally the doctor in white told me what happened and where I was, but to me he was not being fully truthful. And those therapy sessions, I thought everyone seated around me was dead and did not know, and the doctor was just waiting for them to figure it out. I already knew. I was waiting to simply go beyond somehow. And that is pretty much it except for Svenson and Harris visiting once and not coming back. That sort of put the final rivet in the wing for me. I just knew they had transitioned beyond.”

“Understandable and Jorgi, if it happened to me or most anyone we would all probably think the same thing. Now let me show you what really happened and what you did at the time.”

Tod put his personal com on the table where both could see the video display and hear the audio.

“I was a few feet away installing the new amps. When the alarm went off, I looked up. Notice my camera was on and recording the repairs. I always do that so I can review my work later after shift to double-check my work. Now watch carefully as I look up. What I am looking at is not your screen. My cam mostly saw Svenson’s, your wingman’s screen. Your screen is still mostly zoomed in and not easy to see from my position. But it is partially visible and your hands are as well.”

Tod backed up the view and started it again.

“Notice when I start running to you your screen view becomes totally blurry in less than a second. Svenson’s does not.”

Tod played that section of the data several times and then stopped the display.

“Now look at your right thumb. It is on the top hat zoom control. Watch your thumb as I slow motion this.”

Jorgi looked on intently as the screen slowly moved forward displaying screen after screen.

“Damn! I pushed the control forward to full zoom and held it didn’t I?”

“Yes you did. Your initial zoom was not full but was close enough to make the rock seem to be coming faster than it was. That scared the crap out of you and you froze. Instead of releasing the zoom control you pushed it to full only making the image seem like it was quickly accelerating right at us. That is when you blinked out.”

“Tod, I am so sorry. I did this to my self and now you are suffering with me. That was so quick how did you even see it?”

“As I told you I was reviewing my work and remembered that I did not turn off my camera. I looked at it at least a dozen times before I realize what was really happening. It took me a while. But, pal, I am not suffering for it. I look at it this way. I am now a drone pilot. I always thought it would be fun to be one and now I am. So I thank you Jorgi.”

“Well Tod, thank you too. I am sure the doctors will be interested in this short couple of seconds as well. Are you going to share it with them?”

“I will if you agree. You and I are the only persons who know about this. Say the word and it will be erased permanently.”

“No, I think they need to know what happened. Someone may do this again and the doctors may have more insight to help. I will tell them why I thought I was dead. I think they need to change their environment some. All that white and low gravity really messed me up. Everything went black and I woke up in a totally sterile all white low gravity area. What else was I to think?”

“Time’s up Jorgi. I need to get you back or nurse Thunder Bolt will be waiting with a squad of marines and lock us both up. I will link my com to the med center and upload that video to the doctor first thing tomorrow.”

Stepping out of the pod, Tod and Jorgi were met by their favorite nurse. “I was wondering when and if you two were going to get back or go off into space somewhere. Mind you we have a squad of marines here to take care of any reg breakers. Regulations are regulations you know!”

Jorgi shook Tod’s hand in sincere thanks then turned to Nurse Thunder Bolt. “Nurse please schedule me for a doctor visit. I have some information to share with him.”

Tod looked on for a few seconds, then sat in the pod. “Quarters”.

As usual the gentle and slightly seductive female voice responded. “Quarters habitat four, do you wish to proceed?”

“Yes.”

“You are leaving low gravity watch your step.”

Chapter 3

Making a Case for DMD Engines

(Dark Mater Displacement)

(Meanwhile back on Earth)

JD (blond haired, blue eyed, five ft. ten inch medium built Dr. Jerome Damascus Daeps with PhD’s in Astronomy and Plasma Physics) his head held high and shoulders back, walked into Admiral Karuk’s home office. (Burtrand Alexis Karuk, silver hair, hazel eyed, sixty plus years, barely six ft tall and still strongly built, educated as a Mechanical Engineer M.E.)

This was just to be an informal preliminary presentation to get the Admiral up to speed. He had volunteered to solicit support from the I.S.A.’s funding board of commissioners. On time and well prepared with significant data in his case JD was ready to present convincing evidence for construction of a DMD propelled vehicle.

What he found was more than he had anticipated. Still JD forged on undaunted. Unexpectedly, his competition for the available funding Gib, (Naval Commander, dark haired and hazel eyed six ft three inches tall and slightly pudgy, full name Gib Dabton Resul, Yale law, Naval academy grad.) was in attendance as well. Fortunately or un-fortunately depending upon one’s point of view Gib was JD’s brother in law. They had spent many hours debating the merits of the DMD drive system for several years from concept to preliminary tests. He recalled all too clearly how Gib told him repeatedly that he was wasting his time and family inheritance chasing an impossible dream. “You will wind up a broken man and unable to support my sister. Don’t come crying to me for money when that happens.” JD’s wife, Meg, took over during family gatherings and made them put aside any work related discussions “OR ELSE”. Meg kept the peace with an iron fist.

Burt met JD with a warm relaxed gesture with his hand on JD’s shoulder. “Welcome JD. Come in and lets’ see what you have to say about this new drive system we have heard so much about. As you know mining the asteroid belt has not been without its problems, and congress is full of detractors now asking for heads to fall over the loss of ships, personnel, delays, and the rising costs. This makes our funding efforts questionable at best. Even knowing we need faster ships and even hopefully light speed ships and fleets of them, funds are not anywhere near what we need. In all likelihood only one new project will make the cut. So make it good and give us something we can use to turn heads or we won’t make any dents in those tight-pocketed, narrow-minded politicians running the show. Most as you know have blinders on and are not comfortable with new ideas.”

“Burt, this system is designed to not only attain light speed it is anticipated to greatly exceed it.” Commander Resul here has undoubtedly voiced some doubt about the DMD. However I can assure you the system is viable and will work. Our preliminary tests are very convincing, and a larger scale test is very near. But without a ship and flight clearances to test, we will never know for sure how effective this drive will be. I agree it is a big departure from known physics and historic systems. But somewhere sometime we need to break some boundaries. And current technologies for space propulsion have not fundamentally changed since the days of Sput Nik and John Glen riding updated versions of the early V2. We may be fairly well served within our solar system needs by existing propulsion systems, but we will never effectively travel beyond our system until we break out of this technology plateau. I am offering a first look into what we, my team and I, sincerely believe will be the next generation.

Gib broke in. “Just how do you think you can power a space craft with the engine in front when every space vehicle ever built, and every engineer worth his or her salt knows it is necessary to push the vehicle, not pull it. Granted, an airplane propeller can pull a plane, but it has air to work with. Maybe you are going to toss out a tow cable. Just what to, or where do you intend to attach it?”

Gib paused then continued in a musing way. “Perhaps you could launch it in reverse and back up all the way to light speed!”


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