Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Mimas Object - Part 4

The cockpit remained deathly silent and almost pitch black.  While Julia wasn't one of those kids who hid under the covers when it got dark, this darkness scared her.  It meant that the computer was still offline.  The computer wasn't monitoring her course and speed, wasn't maintaining the heat and oxygen levels, or sending telemetry back to Mission Control.  Worse, since the communications system was encrypted, shouldn't couldn't even call NASA for help.

First things first.  It's going to get uncomfortable in here very quickly.  I'll put on my spacesuit to keep comfortable and make sure I have enough oxygen.  Then I have to think.

Julia wrestled the EVA suit out of its cabinet and put it on.  There was a battery pack under one of the panels that powered the computer.  Maybe if she disconnected and reconnected it, the system might come back from the dead.  The EVA gloves made the job difficult, but she managed.  She reached in and disconnected the negative battery terminal.  Julia counted off thirty seconds to herself before reconnecting the terminal, then closed the panel and looked at the display.  It blinked to life.  Soon she watched as the system diagnostic began, then the module's operating system came to life.  The comm display turned black and displayed a series of red letters.

"This computer is under control of the Russian government.  You will remain on course and alive as long as your government continues to work with us.  You will now be given 30 seconds to discuss this situation with your Mission Control, at which time all communications from this vehicle will be terminated."

The message remained on-screen for a few seconds before switching to a comm display with Mission Control.  Charlie's face filled the screen, his eyes looking like someone had a gun to his back.

"Commander, are you OK?"

"Yeah, Charlie.  I'm fine.  A little computer trouble, it looks like."

"Yeah.  Chalmers is on his way in.  I thought you were dead.  We didn't get anything out of the module until just a moment ago, when it started transmitting crazy messages about the Russians being in control of the craft."

Julia shrugged.  "From what I can see, it's true. They tell me everything stays working until our governments work things out.  The minute that falls through, they shut me down."

"We won't let--"

The display went black, and the red text came on again.

"We regret this situation.  Your government did not choose to disclose its discovery with us.  We cannot allow you to have this object to yourselves, even if this means killing you."

Julia sighed.  "I regret this situation, too.  It's not like it was my choice who gets to see this thing and who doesn't."

The display scrolled.  "We know.  We have monitored your communications."

"You mean you've been listening since I launched?"

"Yes.  We have seen the pictures.  You will not hear from us again for some time."

The display went black.  I have to be quiet.  They've proven that they can listen in to anything I say, even here in the cockpit.  The politicians in DC will never negotiate with the Russians.  I'm as good as dead.  I need to think about what else I can do here.  How can I gain control of the computer?

Julia considered the situation, sitting there quietly, trying to look as scared as she was, in case the Russians were watching.  The computer controlled most aspects of the command module.  She could disengage it from thrust control.  That was handled through physical switches that the Russians couldn't turn back on.  If she kept the EVA suit on, it wouldn't matter if they turned off the heat and oxygen - at least as long as the suit had power and oxygen left.  That left only communications.  That was all digital, all computer controlled and encrypted.  The Russians had her there, unless she could think of something - or the gang back at NASA did.

She pulled the computer tablet out of the cabinet.  It contained all of the schematics, manuals, and other documentation for the command module.  Maybe she could find a solution in here.

The comm display lit up.

"What are doing, Commander?"

She flashed it what she hoped was a bored look.  "You've left me with no communications and no access to the computer.  I thought I'd pass the time by reading a book on this tablet."


The display went black again.

She began scanning the computer section of the documentation, carefully, slowly.  She wanted them to think she was reading a mystery novel or a romance, not the technical data about Mars One.  She skimmed the sections on rebooting, running diagnostics, emergency power-off... If she got desperate, that might help.  It might at least keep the Russians from crashing her into an asteroid or something.

The stuff in the books was dry, but concise and to the point.  It was meant to give an astronaut critical information in an emergency.  You'd never find this on the bestseller list, but right now this book was more interesting to Julia than the last 50 bestsellers combined.  It might just save her life.

The Emergency Recovery section looked the most promising.  It talked about how she could bring the computer up in a self-repair mode, using a system image stored on the tablet.  Perhaps she could use this.  A plan began to form in her head.  Switch to manual navigation, pop on the EVA helmet and gloves, hook up the tablet, and start the recovery process.  Maybe it would wipe the Russians right out of the system!

The display lit up again.

"Enjoying your technical manuals, Commander?"

"Immensely," she said.  She felt as though she'd been punched in the stomach.

"We enjoyed them as well.  That recovery image contains a self-destruct sequence."

"I see."  A tear rolled down her cheek.

She could regain control of the module and maintain life support for a short while, but not long enough to complete the mission.  Not even long enough to return to Earth.  No, her fate was in the hands of a bunch of Washington bureaucrats.  Suddenly, the cockpit seemed ten degrees colder.

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