Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Mimas Object - Part 5

Julia had little faith in Washington after they had grounded the Shuttle Orbiter program without a replacement.  This left the astronauts to hitchhike on the spacecraft of other nations, including the one that seemed determined to prevent her from reaching Mimas.

Perhaps she could get the Russians talking again.  Maybe she could negotiate something with them.

She wanted a backup plan in place before she talked to them.  She knew they had access to the video chat camera above the display, and could see much of what we going on in the cockpit.  If she moved quickly enough, she could block the camera.  By the time the Russians could send her a message to unblock it, she could switch navigation over to manual.  She was already in the EVA suit, and needed only to put the helmet on in order to ensure she had air to breathe.  The only thing she had to worry about was the self-destruct sequence they claimed to have.

How would that work?  The only thing on the craft that could explode would be the fuel.  They might jettison that and ignite the engines, hoping to trigger an explosion.  But that would require access to the thrusters, which she was going to deny them by switching off computer-assisted navigation.  Maybe it was just a bluff.  She'd risk it.

She bent down to the food compartment under the comm display and pretended to accidentally cover up the camera with the tablet computer.  Then, she quickly switched to manual navigation, put the helmet in her lap, and ripped open the food packet.  As she expected, the comm system began a half-beeping, half-buzzing sound like a cheap alarm clock.  She picked up the tablet and looked at the screen.

"What are you doing, Commander?" The display asked.

"I was grabbing something to eat.  Hope you don't mind.  Hey, could we talk for a minute?  I have a feeling Washington won't cut a deal with you.  If they don't, give me a chance before you do that self-destruct thing, OK?"

"You are correct. Negotiation is not going well for you."

She took a bite of food from the packet and nodded.  "It's that whole 'we will not negotiate with terrorists' thing.  Since 9/11, politicians are real sticklers about that.  But here's the thing, Whatever this is, it's ours.  It's not yours.  It doesn't belong to the Chinese, the English, the French, the Israelis, or anyone else.  If this thing is what they think it is, it's too much for any one nation to handle."


"The plan is for me to bring this thing back to the orbital launch platform and wait there.  This module's designed to enter Earth's atmosphere, even though it's meant for Mars.  It was cheaper to build it that way, and it would allow us to land it back on Earth if something happened to the platform."

"What are you suggesting?"

"I'm suggesting that maybe I could bring the module, and this object, down in the water near Europe instead of Florida.  You'd have another opportunity to negotiate for access.  If you got the news media interested ahead of time, you might get public opinion on your side."

"Land the module in Russian waters."

"It's not that I don't trust you guys, but I can't do that.  If my people think I'm a traitor who's sold them out to the Russians, I'll never be able go home.  I want to go home.  I want to fly this thing to Mars.  Do you understand?"

"Land the module in Russian waters."

"I told you.  I can't do that."

"This discussion is over.  Unfortunately for you, the discussion with Washington is over as well.  We are now activating the self-destruct.  Goodbye, Commander."

As before, the cockpit became dark and silent.  She would put on her helmet when the air became too thin or too cold.  She tried to revive the computer, but it didn't work.  Their self-destruct mechanism must have wiped it clean.  She looked at the tablet, which was still working.  There was still hope.

According to the manuals she'd read, there was a system recovery image on the table that could restore the main computer in an emergency.  The Russians claimed to have infected it, and they probably had. If she restored the computer, she would just be handing control of Mars One back to them.  She had no intention of doing that.  She needed a way to restore communication with Mission Control, to get the engineers offering other options.  But how?

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