The NULL Solution = Episode 124

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The NULL Solution = Episode 124

…Once again, a member of the Space Family McKinney is stranded somewhere where he/she/they do not necessarily want to be…

“Let’s blow this juke joint!”

Rick understands the unusual Texan dialect used by his cohort. He also supports the sentiment by plying his skill to raising them up and out, “We will be taking leave of Mars’ gravitation in 2.5 minutes.”

“I think I’m going to tap into that NY Times Bestseller collection I brought along,” Gus proclaims. “Two books a week. I bet I can knock off 20 books before we get back.”

2 minutes later, it turns out Gus will be able to read a library’s worth of fiction. The Martian Mule comes to full stop, stranded on the threshold of space, like an ornament on a Christmas tree, sans a string or explainable cause.

Once again, a member of the Space Family McKinney is stranded somewhere where he/she/they do not necessarily want to be.

“Step on it Rick, what’s the deal?”

“If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say the Harmonia shield has now extended planet-wide.”

Roy Crippen and Fletcher Fitch, who have been on pins & needles, are currently faced with the ultimate conundrum.  Every single monitor at Galveston Launch reads the same bothersome image:

“I regret to inform you that the “Harmonia Query” is hereby & now a swinging door, boys.”

“We were afraid of that Crip. Shit and two equals eight!”

“No, 2 plus 1 equals 6. I know it’s a pain, but until we can solve the riddle, you have no choice but continue cataloguing the Mars environment.”

Fitch has estimated that they have enough food for a year. It appears that H2O will not be an issue, “The good news is that you can shut down the urine re-processor.”

“I suggest you work on that ^%@#&*g quiz as well. Maybe you can see some mathematical association we haven’t. It seems Watson III cannot get past the arithmetic.”

“I can’t get past the fact that we fell into some sort of trap!”

“We’re all in this together. We all made the same mistake.”

“But y’all aren’t castaways.”

“Tom Hanks made it back, so will you.”


The NULL Solution =

Episode 124


page 123

The NULL Solution = Episode 123

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The NULL Solution = Episode 123

…There are forces beyond human control at work on Mars, and when confronted by the unknown, you are compelled to get back to what you do best, fly… home…

The front entrance is appropriately ostentatious. The “Intergalactic Unity” sub-head runs like a scroll around the entire 4 sides of Harmonia, in languages heretofore unseen by human beings including Gus McKinney and Rick Stanley. They have made it past the riddle/key, but what exactly have they gotten themselves into?

After quite a thorough peek of the ground floor, the two explorers from Earth find the building as vacuous inside as it is large outside.

“Just who or what would erect such a thing, with no obvious substance other than a pie-in-the-sky title?”

Copyright © Sharna Fulton 2014

“This is what happens when you get inside without the key. There is no satisfaction for us here, Gus. We’ve got ourselves an eyeful of the tower and nothing else.”

— Out of luck and empty handed, Solution retreats from whence it came, having simply grazed true clarity, not unraveling it. Into the pure water {that flows in-but-not-out of Harmonia}, piloting against a current that is disproportionately strong for 1.75 mph, Gus requires thrusters to make any headway.

Rick Stanley looks to the rear, “We should have kicked up heavenly mud.”

“3/4 thrusters will do that.”

“See for yourself… still clear as a Rocky Mountain brook.”

“This is getting creepy Rick. I’m in favor of packing up our {horticulture/geological} samples and heading back to Earth!”

Upon hearing Gus’ unlikely Martian chronicle, NASA and his stepfather agree. There are forces beyond human control at work on Mars. And when confronted by the unknown, you are compelled to get back to what you do best, fly… home.

The faithful drone that brought them here to Mars is waiting for them after Stanley & Gus retrace their path back to the other side of the planet. Another 2 month sojourn is in their future. Veni, vidi, vici; they came, they saw, they conquered.

Securely nestled in the drone, they are prepared to achieve Mars’ increasingly increasing escape velocity.

“Let’s blow this juke joint!”


The NULL Solution =

JBs Jukejoint by James St. Claire

Episode 123


page 122

The NULL Solution = Episode 121

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The NULL Solution = Episode 121

…#48 isn’t about to let a 2-bit/Dr. Seuss inspired/practical joke get in the way perfectly good mission…

Some people never know when to give up… Example 1-1A {with a bullet} is Roy Crippen.

As President of the United States {circa 2032-40} he was faced with the re-emergence of a terror group, the 5-man group storming a vulnerable embassy and the taking of ten hostages {one being First Lady Francine who was attending the funeral of a Middle East Leader}. After 15 tense days, which included video of hostage #3 being executed and a list of impossible demands, he refused to cave in.

It is not until Day 20 that he negotiated an end to the crisis, by personally helicoptering on to embassy grounds, with 3 aging terror leaders in tow and a trunk full of cash; $100,000,000, 2 Yemini’s and 1 Palestinian were exchanged for the 9 remaining hostages.

You can trust the leader of the free world, right?

Nope. A gross of counterfeit bills, an explosive package… and suddenly there are 8 {5+3} less terrorists in the world tonight. —

— Now, #48 isn’t about to let a 2-bit/Dr. Seuss inspired/practical joke get in the way perfectly good mission. He has been sifting through the geographical features in and around Harmonia and feels a hunch coming on.

“Hey Ricko, how deep is that river to the northeast?”

“The one that runs into the no-fly zone?”

 “Yes, that one. It appears to be one of the more established flows on the planet.”

“It is Roy. Its headwaters are up in the Xanthe Mountain Range. I tested it out yesterday. It is as pure as anything we have on Earth.”

“That is the very definition of pollution, right? But potability is not what I am after… how many feet at its deepest as it passes under the Harmonia shield… I have a theory.”

“15.7 feet.”

“How wide at that depth?”

“20 or so. It only moves at about 1.75 mph so it’s not a silt-producer either.”

“What is Gus doing?”

“He’s picking daisiesI am serious,” in the name of science of course.

“So am I. Get him back inside. I want to try something.”

“Are you thinking…?”

“Yep.”


The NULL Solution =

Episode 121


page 120

The NULL Solution = Episode 118

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The NULL Solution = Episode 118

…We have sunk too much into this operation to merely turn back with our tail between our legs…

“What did we hit?”

“Nothing that I can see.”

They traveled past and through mountains, valleys, sea and plain, no problem. Now with a clear path to their objective, it is no dice.

With no other choice, Gus makes a 360° loop around the massive structure, determined to find a way in. Fuzzy math still stands in their way. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing this outcome in advance.

Whether by land or by space, it’s solve the damned riddle or else.

“Instead of driving all the way back to the landing sight, let’s call the drone over to this side and drop it down closer to the surface. We need to think a bit, talk to Crip, and plan our next move.” What else is there to do? “I’m getting hungry and all the good food is on the drone.”

Reconstituted ham will have to do for dinner. The King Ranch Easter egg hunt 2055 will go on without Marscie’s daddy. That he misses this April 18th Sunday was planned. What Roy Crippen has in mind may jeopardize Thanksgiving.

“We cannot afford to scrub another mission to Mars, Gus. You’re not flying a SEx sortie all by yourself at SOL+++. We have sunk too much into this operation to merely turn back with our tail between our legs. We need water samples, surface and ground, a complete atmospheric profile and one of every plant species you and Rick can lay your hands on.” This is not what this McKinney was built for. “Put your education to work, son. This is the meat & potatoes of space exploration.”

“I prefer champagne and caviar.”

“You can’t afford it… you forfeited your mission hazard pay, remember?”

“So it’s vacuum beakers and freeze-dried horticulture?”

“Yes…, but you can also scan the hell out of that building! It has to have some other purpose that we’re not aware of.”

“I’ll send Rick over to Harmonia with his résumé. Maybe he can get a part-time job in the Trust Dept., Retirement Division.”

“Not without solving that damned riddle first.”

The riddle; it all comes down to bad math and its unsubstantiated quizmaster.

A year that once held promise for positive change: for the Null of Eridanus, for the pilgrims aboard Collapsar Axis or for amateur cryptographers everywhere, time has slowed to pace of a snail.


The NULL Solution =

Episode 118


page 117 (end ch. 10)

The NULL Solution = Episode 117

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The NULL Solution = Episode 117

Not very good fishing I’m afraid,” Gus complains as Solution glides across the largest such sea on their route…

Mars Surface After Terraforming by Victor Habbick Visions

As far as the horizon stretches, on the backside of every rise, one new vista replaces the last. It could be Precambrian Nebraska or Missouri or the Dakotas, if it were not for the more distant, thus smaller sun above those hills and mountains. Due to the thickening atmosphere, Mars is able to trap more and more of the heat generated by the star, some 150 million miles distant.

“This must be how it was for Lewis & Clark.”

“Minus the indigenous Native Americans.”

Stanley & Gus discuss the perilous journey that lasted from 1804-06. The current incarnation is commissioned by President Chasin Hedley not Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wanted to establish a presence in the American West before European powers would lay claim to it. That had to be in the back of Hedley’s mind, when he authorized this expedition.

Solution is undaunted, with Gus at the controls. Sure there are mountains to scale, but none the height of the North American Rockies. Yes there are oceans of water, but none the depth of the Challenger Deep, in the Earth’s Mariana Trench.

Tectonic tranquility is the best way to describe modern Martian geology. Active volcanism or continental drift is absent.

Non-potable describes the water, at least that standing on the surface. What falls from the sky is essentially pure, but what contacts the dust from eons of stale sedentary soil, renders it unfit for human consumption, at least without some simple filtration. By every definition it is good ol’ H2O though, found to be far more plentiful in the Universe than previously thought.

“Not very good fishing I’m afraid,” Gus complains as Solution glides across the largest such sea on their route.

“By my reckoning, we should spot the tip of Harmonia any time now.” That is their prime directive.

2 + 1 = 6? Eat my shorts! Gus taunts. “Never underestimate good old NASA ingenuity, whoever the hell you are!”

His bravado lasts as only long as Martian frost after a gorgeous sunrise. With Harmonia in full view and every available sensor trained on it, the rover that got them here from clear on the other side of the planet, stops dead in its tracks; really dead.

“What did we hit?”


The NULL Solution =

Martian Sunrise

Episode 117


page 116

The NULL Solution = Episode 116

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The NULL Solution = Episode 116

…We are flying by the seat of our pants, buddy…

No single someone or Earthly thing will hold sway over the current Martian circumstances. As organically vigorous as the planet has evolved, in the span of a single complete orbit around the Terran sun, there are no signs of a human or alien population.

There remains that one soaring structure which screams the word Harmonia from its broad base to the sweeping beacon at its peak.

With the front door firmly locked, with a riddle for a key, the expeditionary goal is to land Solution 180° opposite it, where the way is unfettered and the prairie grasses are knee high before Easter. Just like historic Earth, Mars is healing its crater scars and river bottoms with a fresh coat of vegetation and flows of fresh, spotless water.

In order to navigate the some 6600+ mile overland trip to Harmonia, the rover is a low-to-the-ground/amphibious crawler of ingenious design. During its test drives, the summer creature residents of NW Canada must have been bewildered by how Solution would cross tundra, lake or forest while hardly changing course. Mountains and craters are the primary geographical challenges in this case. Gus and Rick will cross any hurdle when they get there. There are no maps on this road-never-traveled.

Gus is about to launch Solution from out of the synchronistic orbit of the reliable drone, using the vertical thrusters to land.

Rick Stanley wonders about the tow-drone, “Why didn’t we give this thing a name. A workhorse like this cries out for a name… like, like…”

“That’s just the point Rick, there’s no hot buzz to this hummer. It does its job without fanfare, plodding along with either an orbiting colony in tow or two jamokes & an oversized dune buggy inside… same boring difference. Thomas the Tank is 3X more interesting!  I guess history will be the judge.”

“How about the Martian Mule?”

“If it makes you happy, record it in our spacelog. We are going to leave it parked here and it better be here when we get back.”

“We may need to bring the Martian Mule closer to the surface for the return trip.” Rick loves the new name.  “The atmosphere has increased the escape velocity, since we last did the calculations. Solution may not have the oomph to get us up.”

We are flying by the seat of our pants, buddy. This is one huge surprise party and we are the guests of honor.”

“If at all possible, keep the bombshells to a minimum. I have a retirement home in the Sierra Nevada’s all picked out.”

“Assisted living or outpatient?”

“No, smartass, I’m talking about a pistachio plantation, near the Tehachapi Pass, out by the San Joaquin Valley.”

“I always thought you were a little nutty!” Without skipping a beat, “Open the pod bay doors HAL.”

“Hey don’t jinx us!”

“Getting back in shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

“Kubrick and Clark aren’t writing our script, Lorgan is.”


The NULL Solution =

Episode 116


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The NULL Solution = Episode 115

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The NULL Solution = Episode 115

…Make no bones about it, it is truly like an expedition of old; Da Gama, Hilary, Joliet or Glenn…. or one of these oldies:

The two month trip out to Mars is a breeze. Each man has his own way to pass the time. 60 or days may not seem like a long time, but when 2 men from different generations are left to their own devices; those devices are bound to be dissimilar.

Retiring Rick Stanley has much to catch up on, seeing that his career path has recently resembled the Chinese fortunes in the world money markets – down. It is enough to frighten a super G downhill racer, so quick was his trip to the bottom of the astronaut chart. He has been resigned to cashing NASA credits, training future astronauts, all the while sleepwalking; not a gratified way to go out.

So here he is, crunching file after file of technical manuals with the hope of catching up with his up-to-date cabin mate. ‘How do I do this or that?’ is not the burden he wants project on Gus McKinney, who has been described by most observers as the premier space pioneer… ever.

Astronaut Stanley is not without his own fine resume, but his reads like a high school diploma compared to Gus’ doctoral thesis. He may be piloting the drone, but he will not be at the controls of Solution as it circumnavigates the surface of the new Mars.

SOLUTION

At 40 years old, Gus could be Rick’s son, nearly a grandson. The veteran always wanted a son, but due to his job at NASA, his two ex-wives were in no mood to be widows with a child. Astronaut spouses are a special breed. His were not. His were merely social-climbing-window-dressing.

It is an odd feeling when you virtually idolize someone so his junior. He has a way to go to pull even, but he will.

Gus McKinney spends his time honing his fast-twitch motor skills and pouring over the “Harmonia Query”. When he grows tired of blasting alien invaders from a game screen, he punishes himself by running countless scenarios past the NASA data-cloud; nothing can be left to chance.

His no-fear attitude prevents him from regretting any of his choices, on Earth or in space. Never mind that he takes a lucky horseshoe with him on every mission. Technology cannot completely replace the U-shaped iron equine wear-guard fashioned by a person called a farrier. His prized appaloosa mare threw this particular shoe, causing them to stop… one minute and one mile from the path of a southeast Texas twister that suddenly dropped out of the sky, right when and where he would be returning from a back-forty fence check. He will forever take that charm, wherever the winds of space blow him.

Not to be outdone, daughter Marscie gave him a lime-green bow from her hair as he left King Ranch for this expedition. Either charm comes in second to his wife. McKinney wives need to be special and Mindy is.

Make no bones about it, it is truly like an expedition of old; Da Gama, Hilary, Joliet or Glenn.


The NULL Solution =

Episode 115


page 114