Short Stories Archives

Jupiter Mission – Error

From the Captain’s log USS Discovery, Wed Aug 22 2012 10:59:59 GMT

Hal was right.

Tracking shows our course is significantly off of plan.  The difference exactly matches what Hal said it would be.  We have escaped Earth’s gravity and are in fact in independent orbit around the sun however that orbit is in fact only a little different from that of the Earth.

It does not and without a major increase in velocity it never will intersect with the orbit of Jupiter.  We’re doing our first mid-course correction burn now in about 15 minutes instead of waiting until November as was originally planned.

Hal is being very good about it.  He hasn’t said “I told you so” even once.  He doesn’t have to.  The numbers and tracking data do that all by themselves.

Heads are rolling back at mission control.  Several entire departments are getting new anus’s chewed out and a number of people have suddenly decided to quietly resign.  Others who weren’t so wise were simply fired.  News media is reporting that a number of officials and “responsible parties” have been subpoenaed to appear before a senate investigation.

Jokes about the 2001 and 2010 movies have suddenly stopped and every voice we hear from Earth is serious and to the point.

Current projections indicate our course corrections will give us a minimum altitude at Jupiter of 505,400 kilometers and an inclination 38.97 degrees.  The correction burn is more like what the Jupiter injection burn should have been.  It will involves a delta-v (change in velocity) of 16,120 meters per second.

Click Here for part four

Jupiter Mission – Launch

Fri Aug 10th 2012 14:43:45

The Earth escape / Jupiter Ejection burn is complete but not without some drama from both an expected and an unexpected source.

The expected source was assorted wits at mission control.  This entire project has been positively rife with references to the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” and it’s sequel.  It has managed to impact every aspect from the names of the ship (Discovery) and it’s on-board computer A.I. (Hal) to people referring to me as “Dave”.

Then at the time of our ejection burn one of the wits at mission control started “Also Sprach Zarathustra” playing on the ship’s audio system.  Later as we entered cruise mode “The Blue Danube” began playing. followed by assorted works of Chopin and Strauss.

The unexpected source was Hal.  He insists that our programmed ejection burn is incorrect.  I’ve spoken with mission control and they assure me that HAL is wrong because his figures are based on old test data.

Hal says he is using the up to date live data about our orbital parameters and the direction, timing and thrust that mission control has programmed for us.  He says that the planned ejection burn will not take us even close to Jupiter.

After a 5min 15sec burn 98.4% of our fuel remains.  Mission control reports that we are now on course for Jupiter.  Hal continues to disagree.

The escape burn left us with a semi major difference of 13 I turned the ship 90 degrees outward for a correction burn.  That brought it down to 12.67 further corrections started to increase it so I stopped trying to correct it for now.  This is another thing that we will have to address in our first mid course correction three months from now.

Hal is certain that we will have to address it much sooner than that.

The differences from the planned course in our actual course are not unexpected though I must admit that a semi major difference that large is unusual in the extreme.  It’s also true that in a trip of over a billion miles it’s expected to be off at first.

This is why several mid course corrections are planned in the first place, so that we can adjust our course to one that more closely matches the planned orbit.

Click Here for part three

Jupiter Mission – Pre-Launch

From the Captain’s log USS Discovery, Fri Aug 10th 2012 13:07:09 GMT

Today’s the day.  Launch day. Years of work and planing come down to a moment about an hour and thirty one minutes from now when we’ll fire the main engines to escape Earth orbit and send ourselves into an orbit that will bring us to Jupiter in September of 2014.

We started out in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) 200 kilometers high where Discovery was built.  Two days ago we executed a maneuver to change the plane of our orbit to align with Jupiter.  This had the side effect of changing our orbit to an elliptical one 430 kilometers high at the low point and 727 kilometers at the high point.

Normally there would be an additional burn to circularize the orbit but in our case its not necessary because we’re leaving orbit today.

Twelve hours ago our fuel tanks were topped off by a tanker ship to replace the fuel used in the plane alignment burn.  This is important so that we can start out with 100% reserves.  It’s a long trip and there are no gas stations out there.

The Relative Inclination is 0.02 degrees. Ordinarily while this figure is important it’s not really a very big deal in LEO operations or even a trip to the moon.  It means a lot more on long trips like this because a small difference like that on this end can mean a huge difference on the other end of such a long trip.  We’ll have to address it in our first mid-course-correction burn a few months from now.

Our projected arrival in Jupiter orbit is on Sept 20, 2014 at 13:12:17 GMT with the projected closest approach at 194,300 kilometers with an orbit inclination of 109.2 degrees.  Of course, these figures are subject to change as we get closer and make mid course corrections.

Sixty seconds before we reach the lowest point in our orbit we’ll do a main engine burn to increase our velocity by 6.68 kilometers per second for earth escape / Jupiter injection.

Click Here for part two

Race Against Death

Ralph Middleton sat crouched in an alley. It was midnight. Where is Michelle – he questioned himself. Michelle, his newest case, was a ghost. She was supposed to meet Ralph in the alley, at midnight. Together, they only had one minute to make it to the Middle Grounds, protected by the only time of night that death took a breather.

So where was Michelle? Ralph checked his watch. She should be here! Suddenly, he heard a noise, it was Michelle floating above the roof.  Not having time to talk, he blurted out – “Let’s go!”

The Middle Grounds were only a mile away, and midnight was the only time Michelle could get there without being carried into the after-life.  Michelle and Ralph took off running.  Even going as fast as they could they still would never make it.

The clock moved to 12:01 and Death roared through the city.  Michelle and Ralph tried to move even faster.  The grounds came into view as they turned a corner, Michelle leaped over the border and fell.  She was safe for the time being however they both knew that this safety was short lived.  It wouldn’t last more than a day or two at best.

Dreams, A True Love Story [Part 3]

[Click here for part two]

After we got over the initial surprise of finding out Amanda was pregnant we settled into something of a normal routine.  It wasn’t quite the same as before of course because now what was and was not good for the baby became a factor in a lot of things.

The first thing Amanda did starting the next Monday was spend three days after work in the public library.  She read everything she could find about pregnancy, delivery and the general care and feeding of babies.

She found out that, contrary to the popular belief at the time, she didn’t have to act like an invalid and stay home doing as little as possible and that a certain amount of exercise & walking was actually a good idea as long as she didn’t overdo it.

She also did some counting.  We’d found out she was pregnant on May 15th, 1980.  The doctor said that she was about three weeks along which meant conception had been around April 17th.  Counting nine months from that date gave her an expected delivery date sometime in the middle of January 1981.

During that time I spent at least a half an hour every day going through the employment section of the classifieds looking for a job that paid better.  The time was coming soon that we would need a lot more money.

Not only to pay for Amanda’s monthly doctor visits (which she had grudgingly agreed were necessary), there was also the hospital time involved for delivery and in a few months we would have to compensate for her not being able to work anymore.  Last but certainly not least was the expense of things we’d need for the baby.

We started saving money. We cut back on almost everything, putting every cent we didn’t absolutely need to spend into the bank.  I also started doing some saving of my own.  I cut back on what I spent for lunches at work and saved the money.  Amanda’s birthday wasn’t until July 13th but roses were expensive and this year of all years I was determined to make sure she had a full dozen of them.

The job search wasn’t going anywhere.  Times were tough all over.  Unemployment was at all time highs and it seemed like every day you heard about another company either closing it’s doors or laying off most of their employees.  Job security was rare and to many people “Reganomics” was a curse word.

Amanda was happier than I’d seen her in years (which is really saying something, she was almost always happy).  She’d determined that she was going to be the best mother that she could.  One of the things she did to that end was to spend more time talking to her older sister.  She had been in the habit of calling her once a month or so but she started calling once a week.

As I said before we didn’t have a phone nor did any of our neighbors.  Making a phone call meant using the payphone outside the grocery store.  We didn’t make many calls during winter.

Amanda’s sister Patricia (who didn’t like that name and insisted everybody call her “Trish”) was three years older than her and had two kids of her own.  Every Saturday (payday was Friday for both of us) she would call Trish.  They’d talk about her pregnancy, comparing Amanda’s with Trish’s two times, experiences with babies in general and newborns in particular and so on.

Amanda dutifully kept her June appointment with the doctor who pronounced her perfectly healthy and said that everything was going as expected.  The only problem she had were occasional bouts of morning sickness.

I’ve never understood why they call it that because more than half the time it could start at any time and easily last all day and even well into the night.  It varied in severity from mild nausea to “don’t even mention food or physical activity”.

I woke up on my birthday and found her in the bathroom throwing up.  Obviously that this wasn’t one of the milder days.  Not only was she throwing up, she was crying.  The roll of red ribbon on the sink gave me a pretty good idea why and I was right.


It was 1974.  On the morning of my 15th birthday Amanda called me and asked me to come over.  “my folks and Trish are spending the day at the flea market so when you get here just come in.  I’ll be in my room. Oh, and be sure to lock the door.”

She only lived a few blocks away so I was there a few minutes later.  I cautiously opened the door and looked around.  I’ve never been comfortable just walking into somebody else’s house without knocking but as she’d said, nobody else was home.  I locked the door and headed for Amanda’s room.

I walked into her room and froze.  She was stretched out on her bed, wearing nothing but a bright red ribbon with a bow on it.  I had seen her naked a few times before (with her consent I should add) but this . . . All I could do was stare.

“Well silly, aren’t you going to unwrap your present?” she asked with a giggle in her voice.

Being physically normal teenagers with the usual load of hormones driving us we had a healthy curiousity about sex.  We talked about it a lot and had agreed that it was obvious that our first time would be with each other (niether of us could imagine being with anyone else).  The only thing we hadn’t figured out ahead of time was when.  Amanda had decided that it would make a perfect birthday gift.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what happened next so I’ll skip the details.  Suffice it to say that we “celebrated” my birthday four times that morning.  Two weeks later on her birthday we “celebrated” several more times.

After that it became an annual tradition that means a lot to both of us.  Regardless of how “active” we are the rest of the time, Birthdays are always extra special.

[End Flashback]

She told me she wasn’t going to be able to give me my birthday present this year and that she hated herself for being so sick on this of all days (We had not missed a birthday since we were 15).  I told her that while it meant a lot, her not feeling good couldn’t be helped and that we could make up for it when she felt better.

She protested that it wouldn’t be the same but her stomach was turning in too many circles for her to argue any more than that.  She let me help her back to bed and ended up sleeping most of the day.  The next several days were varying degrees of bad and worse.  That Saturday however she was feeling good enough to make the trip to the pay phone and call Trish and that helped a little.

It seemed like the closer her birthday was, the slower time passed.  Finally it was the 11th, the last workday before the 13th.  It was also payday.  I was so anxious to get the day over with and get those roses I’d been saving for that I actually showed up at work ten minutes early. 

The day dragged on like few before it had.  In the late afternoon, about half an hour before quitting time the foreman made the rounds delivering pay envelopes.  I stuck it in my pocked and started trying to get ahead on cleanup so that I could leave the instant it was 5pm.  When it was finally time to go I wasted no time getting out of there.

The flower shop was on the way home about a block from the grocery store.  I went in and got a dozen long stem roses.  For the last several days I had skipped buying lunch entirely and added that to the money I had saved.  It was a good thing I’d done so because that dozen roses cost all but a dollar of what I had saved.

I went from there straight to the grocery store to get a box.  Yeah, the roses came in a box but it’s the kind of thing that you can tell by looking at the package what’s in it.  I didn’t want her to know what it was until she opened it.

The large box that had originally held laundry soap was perfect.  I also bought a couple of newspapers and some tape.  I wadded up the pages to line the box.  First filling it halfway with newspaper, then adding the roses, then filling it the rest of the way.  Then all I had to do was tape it shut and wrap it with the few pages of newspaper I’d saved for that.

It was perfect.  The box was big enough that if I carried it right I could make it look like it was really heavy even though it didn’t weigh very much at all.

Normally I would stop at the bank and drop my check in the night deposit on the way home but I decided I’d deposit it the next morning (our bank was open Saturday morning until noon) while Amanda called Trish.

When I got home and Amanda saw the box and the way I carried it like it was really heavy she said that I shouldn’t have gotten something so big.  At the same time her curiousity was running in overdrive.  Especialy after I asked her not to touch it until Sunday morning.

The next morning while she was talking to Trish I went to the bank to deposit my paycheck.  When I opened the envelope I saw that the check wasn’t the only thing in it.  I got out the second item and my heart dropped into my stomach, which immediately fell into my bowels and threatened to dribble down my legs.

It was actually typed on pink paper.  It started out “We regret to inform you”.  It was a form letter, the essense of which was I had been laid off for an indefinite period of time and that they’d call me when they could afford to have me back.

This was, to say the least, a disaster.  The last thing we needed right now was for either of us to be out of work.  I deposited the check and put that cursed pink page in my wallet.  Normally I don’t keep anything from Mandy but her birthday was the next day and I didn’t want anything to ruin it.  I would tell her Monday.

I did my best to act like nothing was wrong, hoping that if she noticed anything out of sorts that she would think it was because I was worried she might not feel good Sunday (which I was).

Fortunately Sunday morning she felt great.  I forgot all about troubles for the rest of the day, concentrating instead on celebrating her birthday.

For that one day, nothing in the world was wrong anywhere.

The next morning I was up at six as usual out of habit.  Around seven Mandy came out, got some coffee and sat down at the table with me.

I got out my wallet and retrieved that pink note.  “I didn’t want it to spoil your birthday but I got this along with my paycheck Friday.” I told her as I put it on the table in front of her.  “I’ve been laid off.”

[To be continued . . .]

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