Saturday, October 08, 2005

Scale 7 Artifact, part 13

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Journey (part 3)

Daniel was feeling pleased with himself as he glided down the walkway of the Enterprise. The interplanetary lander was shaped like a large airliner, with atomic rocket engines on the wings, powered by atomic reactors at the wing tips, far from any human-occupied areas of the ship. In addition, there was a tail fin nearly as long as the wings, with its own engine and another reactor at the tip. The tail engine was only used for redundancy during in-air flight.

The airliner design allowed the spacecraft to work much more efficiently in air, making it a planetary exploration craft as well as a lander. Also, airliners don't rely entirely on downward thrust to land, so they don't land in a radioactive pool of molten rock as a large tail-landing atomic space-craft would do.

The main problem with the airliner design is that when the ship is in air, the gravity is in the direction of the ship's belly, but when the ship is under power in space, gravity is in the direction of the ship's tail. Depending on what the ship is doing, a given bulkhead may be either a deck or a wall.

Mere orbital landers do not have to deal with this problem; instead, they have seats arranged for air travel. The passengers simply lie on their backs during the short periods of acceleration in free fall. Such a solution worked for ships that only spent short times in free fall, but for interplanetary landers such as the Enterprise, people had to work and live in space as well as on the ground.

Most makes of lander solved the problem by having furniture and other fixtures that worked in either orientation. Much of it had to be moved when the ship went from one mode to another. A few never-built designs had entire rooms that rotated, but such ships would have far too much dry mass to make practical space craft.

The Enterprise used a different solution. Instead of a fixed direction of thrust and a rotating interior, the Enterprise had a fixed interior and a rotating direction of thrust. When accelerating in free fall, the Enterprise would rotate the engines on her wings to point downward, or what would be downward if the spacecraft were landed. In effect, the Enterprise flew upward through space instead of forward.

About halfway through the trip, the pilot would shut off the engines rotate 180 degrees to point the ship's belly at her destination, and then fire up the engines to decelerate. For the passengers, gravity was always in the same direction, whether it came from acceleration or deceleration, or from a planet or moon.

As Daniel wandered down the upper corridor along the spine of the Enterprise, a hand reached out and snatched him into a hydroponic bay. It was Jackie. She closed the hatch behind him with a muffled click.

"Daniel," she told him, "I just want to let you know that you don't have to do anything about Peter."

"What makes you think I'm going to do anything about Peter?" Daniel asked innocently.

"I've seen the way you look when he pesters Sarah," Jackie said. "You look like you've bit into a lemon..."

"I like lemons." Daniel interrupted. "A good sour slice of lemon with a bit of salt..."

"Very funny." Jackie interrupted him back. "Look, I know you were about to go all daddy-doesn't-want-you-messing-with-my-little-girl on Peter."

Daniel grinned. "Damn straight. Except that it would be more 'granpa' than 'daddy'. And granpa knows how to assemble a cattle prod from some of the exploratory equipment. But thanks. I'm glad you were able to take care of it without the testosterone issues."

"You're welcome. I'll bet by the time we make moon-fall those two will be an item."

"What? Didn't you tell Peter to leave Sarah alone?"

"Of course not!" Jackie said. "I gave him some advice on how to approach Sarah without putting her off."

"But that's all wrong! Sarah likes Zareda! Peter is an interloper!"

"But Zareda obviously doesn't like Sarah. She needs to move on."

"Bah." Daniel waved his hand dismissively, "The kid just needed a little kick in the pants. He's going to be all over that girl by the end of the week. Trust me."

"You didn't encourage Zareda to court Sarah!" Jakie said, shocked, "You couldn't be that stupid!"

"Yes I ... ah ... could?"

"Do you want two young men going after the same young woman on a small ship like this? Are you nuts?"

"Well ..."

"Zareda was willing to step out. Peter won't!"

"Well, Peter needs to ..."

"What possible excuse could you have for doing such a moronic thing?"

"I ahh..." Daniel trailed off.

"Well? What possible excuse can you have?" Jackie tapped her foot, glaring at Daniel. When Daniel didn't answer for a moment, she prompted, "Well?"

"Sarah likes Zareda." Daniel said.

"Oh. I see." Jackie said sternly. "Some cute young girl hugs you and calls you 'Danny' and cuddles up against you on the couch, and you are ready to endanger one of the most significant missions in human history just to make her happy. Is that about the size of it?"

"Well ..." Daniel hesitated. "Yes."

Jackie threw up her hands in frustration.

"So," Daniel said, "You are just going to have to go back to Peter and tell him to lay off. Sarah likes Zareda."

"No," Jackie said, "You are going to have to go back to Zareda and tell him to lay off, because Peter made the first move."

"Bah. It's not a move until Sarah says it's a move." Daniel said stubbornly. "You saw the way she..."

"Enough!" Jackie held up her hands. "We are going to..."

"ATTENTION ALL HANDS" the announcement blared from the ship's speakers. "WE HAVE AN ALL-HANDS MEETING IN THE GALLEY IMMEDIATELY. ALL HANDS REPORT TO THE GALLEY IMMEDIATELY. THANK YOU."

"Whoops. Gotta go!" Daniel announced.

Daniel quickly popped open the hatch and ducked his head to leave but Jackie grabbed his coveralls by the utility loop. "Not so fast, mister." she said ominously.

Daniel had just begun to consider his options when he saw his salvation walking down the corridor. "Harold!" he called. "Your wife has abducted me. For what nefarious purposes I can only imagine. I demand, sir, that you speak to her about her felonious disposition."

Harold laughed and Jackie let go of Daniel who slipped the rest of the way out of the bay.

Harold poked his head into the bay to see Jackie, who was not laughing. "Dear, what did we agree about kidnapping our fellow crewmen?" Jackie turned her glare from Daniel to her husband. Harold visibly flinched and turned to Daniel, saying seriously, "Sir, the situation appears fraught with peril. I implore you to retreat with all haste and leave me to cover the rear."

"You will be remembered in song and story for your valor." Daniel assured him. He offered a sloppy solute and turned toward the galley.

Behind him, Daniel heard Jackie, "That's not funny, Harold. I wasn't finished speaking with Dr. Greaves."

"You will have time to browbeat him later," her husband consoled her. But we have been ordered to a meeting and ..." the rest was lost to distance.

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