The world was running out of room, resources and time; was there a new hope - the colonisation of Mars?
Col. Jack Fortune of SpaceForce and his team must test the new spaceship which can make Martian terraforming feasible and with it save the planet.
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The world was recovering, it had come close to apocalypse; now it was running out of resources and space - and time. Some predicted doom, others fought ruthlessly against that prospect; but to some the Earth had a hope - ‘SpaceForce’.
Col. Jack Fortune was a hero to the world, the world believed in him but it did so at a time when he was beginning to question what he had once regarded as a glamorous career.
Now he and his hand-picked team were tasked with test flying the world’s latest experimental space ship. With its high speed and exotically powered engines this ‘Q-SHIP’ could be the forerunner not only of taming the Solar System, but also it could pioneer a realistic way to save Earth by terraforming and colonising Mars.
Fortune must put aside his misgivings; he must also come to terms with working with the remarkable young woman whose remarkable mind had constructed this ship. Former child prodigy Professor Elisabeth Beacham also has a lot to prove, to herself, to her irascible and demanding former mentor – the genius that is Lord Alexander Diamond, but not least to her new companions – Fortune and his crew.
But when new unknown forces interfere and intrude it brings all their beliefs and their work into focus. Beacham must face her inner demons and Fortune must once again face up to the consequences of carrying out his duty.
The bulky green mass of the transport ship ‘Hercules’ was falling from its orbit in the Martian sky. Damaged panels showed where it had been struck by flailing meteorites; ominously the ship trailed gas clouds which indicated that its tanks had been compromised. These meteorites still streaked through the thin Martian atmosphere where they burned up in streaks of fire. The ship however was trapped in the meteor stream which gained in intensity; its powerful engines were silent and it rocked as it continued to be struck by them. Most of these meteorites were not large but their impact on a spaceship could be deadly if they hit vital control sensors and fuel or oxygen tanks. As the ship rocked under the influence of both its damaged controls and the effects of meteorite hits, the booster control jets which should have been controlling its decline spluttered intermittently, the vector jets controlling its attitude stuttered fitfully. The result was that the cargo ship was hitting the outer limits of the Martian atmosphere at far too steep an angle and its body panels started to flake and burn in the heat of the resulting friction.
In the transport’s cockpit an array of alarms flashed and the unnatural and dissonant female tones of the AutoWarnSys called for the attention of the two helmeted spacemen who were struggling to control the shuddering, rocking space ship.
‘Advisory: Detecting severe external impacts.’
It was a small cockpit, part of a small spherical pod forming the bow and linking to the large, bulbous main body of a transport that was built for practicality not comfort or flying dynamics. The pilot in the left seat was the world’s most famous space explorer, Colonel Benjamin J ‘Jack’ Fortune who was in his trademark red space suit; the co-pilot was his long time and equally famous assistant, ‘Bluey’ Martin, in the green and gold suit which he pointedly wore in homage to his native Australia.
Fortune surveyed the tale of horror that was until a few moments previously the ship’s control system; he displayed the right stuff that had made him legendary.
‘This is where we earn our pay-check Bluey! Something big hit us bad somewhere,’ he said, ‘we need to come up with a solution quick.’
Martin had heard Fortune stating the obvious many times before and doggedly got on with his job. Martin was small and wiry and beneath his helmet he had freckled features, pale reddish-brown eyes and close cropped red hair. Behind every great spaceman there stands a Bluey, was his motto.
‘Orbital approach degrading, we’re fallin’ short of Central Base. Computer’s haywire, backup’s non-operative, no automatics; lost the beam!’ he replied. ‘You had no right volunteerin’ me for this Colonel.’
‘Urgent: Navigation systems inoperative.’
Martin had in fact volunteered himself for this mission, but had always made a point of displaying a native bluntness to all and sundry; Fortune was used to it and would not have had it any other way.
‘No beam?’ he exclaimed.
Fortune felt the first pangs of uncertainty. The navigation beam was the signal from the Mars Central Operating Base that guided them in on automatics, it made landings routine. Without access to the beam both Fortune and Martin were capable of making a manual landing using the ships own sensors, but the ship’s landing beam equipment had a triple backup and Fortune realised that if that first surprising shower of meteors had inflicted such severe damage then their ship was in real danger.
‘We need to get out of this meteor stream.’ No boosters, no attitude; a safe landing was not an option now; the pressing need was to climb up into a higher safer orbit. ‘Aborting re-entry! Main engines burn.’
Fortune hit a series of main engine control buttons as Bluey brought up the engine monitoring data as the prime source in his instrument screen. ‘Main Engine Burn’ flashed ‘Active’ but there was no response from the circle of engine pods at the rear of the ship. Bluey took his turn on auxiliary controls.
‘Repeat... Main engine burn ... Negative.’ This was bad; Bluey tried again. ‘That’s a big Negative.’
The ship continued its descent as the engines refused to fire. How, thought Fortune, could meteorites have caused...
‘Warning: Unsustainable landing configuration.’
‘Main engine negative power; boosters dead,’ reported Martin.
‘Emergency thrusters!’ ordered Fortune.
‘Ventral thrusters off line.’ Martin continued to report the unwillingness of their ship to co-operate. ‘The track in is degrading fast, Skipper.’
‘Warning: Unsustainable landing configuration.’
That first sudden and totally unexpected burst of meteor strikes had devastated the ship and severely compromised its ability to survive. A totally routine though high profile mission had in an instant developed into a fast approaching disaster; nothing the experienced pair had done could make any difference to the increasingly steep descent. Fortune and Martin both looked to the large red, and suddenly very tempting, ABANDON SHIP button; despite every instinct they now had no option but to face reality.
The spaceship rocked and shuddered but Fortune determinedly ignored the temptation. Fortune knew all too well the political conflicts that lay strewn all around his mission and what scandal would erupt if it failed. That’s why he had stepped forward to take responsibility to fly a humble transport and right now he was in no mood to betray the trust put in him by his boss, Sir Curtis Leighton.
‘Sorry Bluey, we still have a time window, we are not out of options yet, this cargo’s too important. We can still get it down somewhere.’ Fortune’s mind began to race through the various landing options; the time window was closing fast, if only they could gain some control of the haywire retro-boosters. Fortune hit a keypad to call up diagnostics. With rising urgency and frustration he scrolled through menus. ‘Where have these meteors come from Bluey?’
‘There was nothin’ on the sensors, Skipper, They came outa the Sun.’
Fortune briefly tried to form a mental picture of the position of the asteroid belt, the source of these meteorites, circling beyond Mars relative to the Sun and their own position, but he had no time; he continued searching the diagnostics screen and grunted as at last he found what he was looking for and started to search deeper. Martin was juggling his controls powering the attitude thrusters to desperately try to slow their decent, to buy precious time.
‘There’s no way we should get a shower like...’
Another strong judder stopped Martin’s train of thought. This storm of meteors was unnatural, to be so big, so intense and to last for so long, Bluey’s frustration and despair at last showed through.
‘This is gettin’...’
Martin got no further...
(to be continued)