The Unexpected Satellite – Part 2

Two days later, Alan had just finished his shift, handing the reins over to one of his subordinates. He was about halfway through the repairs on the damaged maintenance drones by this stage. It had taken him several hours of poring through inscrutable sensor readings to find out what had gone wrong, and eventually, he had tracked it down to a faulty optical sensor assembly. Now, at least, he was making progress and could leave some of the work to the rest of the maintenance crew.

After a few moments, he had reached his destination: the on-board gymnasium. After eight hours spent carefully fitting together the innards of a drone, Alan felt like stretching his muscles a bit. In any case, in the slightly lower gravity inside the spacecraft’s gyroscopic section, Alan knew that he had to make sure that he didn’t let his muscles deteriorate. Stepping into the gymnasium room, which was stocked only with those pieces of apparatus that could easily be secured to the ground, or at least attached to something else, Alan headed straight over to his locker, taking out a pair of scuffed black trainers and proceeded to sit down and take off his heavy black boots.

Once he was ready, Alan stepped onto one of the treadmills and started jogging along with metronomic footsteps that sounded out through the empty room. He kept going for twenty minutes, by which time he felt slightly more sweaty than before. He was about to seat himself on a hand cycling machine when he saw the door open. Turning his head, he saw the spacecraft’s Vice-Commander, Paul Matthews, entering the room.

Hey, Paul,” Alan shouted over to the entrance of the room.

Oh, hey, Alan,” Paul replied as he retrieved his kit from his locker. “How are things?”

Pretty good, thanks. I’m getting there with those drones – they should be up and going in a couple of days at most. How about you? Have you had any success tracking the space miner?”

I think so,” Paul replied hesitantly. “We’re tracking a large metallic object on the approximate trajectory that we expected, but without the thermal signature, we’re a bit lost.”

By this point, Alan had begun to get up to speed on the hand cycle, while Paul was still struggling with his trainers. “So,” Alan said, “how much ore do you reckon is on that spacecraft? Andrew said something in the region of one hundred million euro.”

I don’t know,” Paul replied. “I’m not an economist… or a geologist, for that matter. Andrew’s probably had a lot more briefing than us anyway. I know I’m just here to pass the saw to Andrew and whoever’s working with him.”

Alan stopped pedalling for a moment, grunting and replying, “That would be me, then. It wouldn’t be so bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that I have to pilot the bloody shuttle as well.”

Paul laughed, replying, “Ouch, unlucky!” After a pause, he continued, “Actually, it makes sense now why they’d bring in somebody else from the outside for this mission. I just reckoned that they’d get somebody who could pilot a shuttle themselves to do the job.”

Somehow, I don’t think that the two fields align all that much,” Alan replied. “In fact, they probably had a hard time even finding a maintenance-path Technical Specialist who could pilot a shuttle.”

That’s a fair point,” Paul replied as he stepped onto a treadmill. “Anyway, you don’t have to worry about it now. I’ve heard you’re quite good at Territorial Conquest. I’ve been looking for a bit of competition for a while now.”

Alan raised his eyebrows and asked, “Where did you hear that?”

Some of your crew mates told me when we were both holed up in Station Lisbon. Peter, I think, and Claude.”

Alan chuckled. “I think it’s more of a case of them being utterly predictable. But I’ll accept your challenge. Meet you in the rec room around 1800?”

You’re on!”, Paul replied with a smile.

* * * * * * * * * *

The end of the journey was approaching, and Alan was making sure that everything was in order for the reverse burn from the engines. Everything that was loose had to be secured to stop it from being chucked against the walls at high speed, while all of the maintenance drones had to be in order and working before Alan and the rest of the crew made their retreat to the rather smaller piloting station closer to the nose of the spacecraft. Alan was checking off lists, making sure that everything that he needed to take out was soon replaced, while most of the others on the spacecraft were rushing about with their own jobs in mind.

Paul and the Commander had managed to confirm to within acceptable accuracy that the object that they were pursuing was the stranded asteroid miner, which had given Andrew some relief. Andrew had confided to Alan that he was worried about getting the asteroid miner back in commission again, because a failure to do so would look like a waste of time. Unlike Alan and the crew members of the Chronos, Andrew spent most of his time either on a space station or planetside. The crew members of the ECSA’s armed spacecraft were expected to spend long periods with very little going on around them, and apart from the neophytes that hadn’t yet learned when it was necessary to work hard and when they could sit back and relax, nobody was overly concerned if there wasn’t a huge amount of activity. For Andrew, things seemed different – or at least, that was Andrew’s perception.

In fact, Andrew’s eagerness and enthusiasm to help had occasionally annoyed Alan. No amount of “I’ll sort that out later” seemed to be adequate to satisfy Andrew, who went through myriad details which weren’t yet of significance, ranging from the initial load on the shuttle to the layout of the systems in the spacecraft. Alan, for his part, had already studied the spacecraft schematics extensively, while things like the load on the shuttle would not be important until they had verified that the spacecraft hadn’t been damaged beyond repair, for instance.

Alan looked down at his open toolbox and turned his mind back towards making sure everything was secure. He was looking for a set of Allen keys which he had used recently, and had left somewhere in the maintenance room. All of the maintenance drones had been programmed and checked, and were ready to go as soon as Alan sent out the command. He was almost ready for the end of the first leg of the mission. This was the easiest part, especially now that they were reasonably sure they weren’t chasing after the spacecraft to no avail. Getting the asteroid miner working again, Alan considered, might be a considerably more difficult job.

* * * * * * * * * *

Once all of the preparations had been finished and everything set in its place, Alan climbed the long shaft leading to the piloting station. Without the centripetal force experienced in the main crew compartment, Alan felt the floating sensation of zero gravity making his movement more awkward than before. Once he reached the top of the shaft, he pressed the switch to open the hatch into the piloting station, pulling himself into the room and floating to the ceiling. A brief set of acrobatic manoeuvres helped bring him to his seat, where he promptly pulled on the five-point harness and sat back into his seat.

The rest of the crew members were seated in their usual positions, Commander Jackson and Vice-Commander Matthews seated in the centre along with Alan and the mathematician, Gerhard Schneider, while Alan’s subordinates in the maintenance department, the doctor and medical specialist were all seated closer to the periphery. Andrew was here as well, taking the seat that would ordinarily be occupied by the on-board horticulturist and hydroponicist.

After the Commander and Vice-Commander had performed their routine tasks, the Commander asked loudly, “Is everybody seated comfortably?”

There came no answer, but the Commander didn’t need one. Alan could see that he knew, along with the rest of the crew members, that the next few hours weren’t going to be comfortable at all.

Engines prepared, ready for initial burn,” the Vice-Commander said to Commander Jackson.

Initiating engines. Setting for 3G initial acceleration,” the Commander replied while tapping a number of items on his screen.

Alan felt a deep rumble that seemed to come from the bowels of the ship. Slowly but surely, he was pushed harder and harder into his seat as the spacecraft’s engines started to accelerate the spacecraft in the opposite of their direction of movement. Soon, Alan and the rest of the crew were being subjected to three times the force of gravity, with very little to do except grimace and bear it.

Over the course of the next two hours, the piloting station remained mostly quiet, aside from the occasional status report given by either the Commander or Vice-Commander and the usual sounds of movement from the rest of the crew members. Alan had taken out a scroll-like object, unrolling it into a visual display on which he was reading a technical journal on the field of spacecraft design. Occasionally, Alan looked up to observe what the rest of the crew members were doing. Some were fidgeting or reading, others were just sitting back and trying to relax, while Vincent, one of Alan’s subordinates had found the time to take a quick nap.

Eventually, Commander Jackson started to become a bit more animated. A series of status reports were shared between the Commander and Vice-Commander Matthews. “Engines prepared for disengagement,” Paul replied after a brief pause.

Disengaging engines,” the Commander confirmed. “Have them ready to fire up in half-an-hour, Paul.”

After looking around the piloting station, the Commander spoke with a resounding voice, “We’re disengaging the engines for half-an-hour, if you want to stretch yourselves out. Be prepared to go as soon as I call, though!”

Alan rolled up his visual display, putting it into a pocket on his uniform, then proceeding to unstrap himself. Pushing down on the seat, he allowed himself to drift towards the ceiling, trying to shrug the fatigue out of his muscles. There were quite a few more of the engine burns to go, but each one would slow the spacecraft down that little bit more. The Chronos was approaching its destination. It would simply take a bit more time.

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