THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 124

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 124

you have seen what these people are capable of, so do not underestimate their reach or cunning

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Cunning by Skia on DeviantArt.com

“In opening, my only question for you is, did you recognize the man who shot you?”

That is a stupid question from someone who should already know the answer, considering that the hail of bullets sailed through the closed door of the lavatory, while the victim was seated on the stainless steel pedestal.

“No I do not.”

Related image“Was there anyone on your flight who looked familiar to you, suspicious or otherwise?”

“I did recognize that pop singer my daughters are so crazy for, the one that has all those tattoos…”

When a bad-guy can board an international flight with a weapon and a covert agency of the USA cannot identify him, it is an insecure feeling.

It is obvious that neither Afridi nor his family can be of any help, at least for the Man in Black. He motions to the other non-family interested party, who has her own set of questions.

“My name is Sandi Gilbert, a close associate of Roy Crippen, here at Lovell and at Galveston and we would like for you to tell us about the revelation you flew all this way to share.”

Lieutenant II Gilbert has been leading the Incident Audit Team {Space Colony 1.20.2030} from the beginning and the older sister of KHST’s NASA Expert Randi Gilbert. All the evidence supporting the accidental destruction of the Mars orbiting Colony has been peeling away, one pungent layer at a time. Unlike the Space Shuttle Challenger that exploded on a frosty Florida morning in 1986 or Shuttle Columbia’s re-entry miscalculation in 2003, both of which happened with wide-eyed witnesses in Earth’s atmosphere Space Colony 1 disappeared into the abyss of space, without Earthly observation. NASA has been out of the disaster business since the funding drought began in 2009 and the Mars mission inception a decade ago.}

Aldona Afridi is shell-shocked, both literally and figuratively. What an odd path:

  • He had successfully defected from his Far East homeland, at great risk to life and limb
  • Navigated The Orient Express all the way to its Istanbul railhead
  • Made few friends and many enemies along the way
  • Tried and did to warn NASA about a space probe with bad intent
  • Got a ride out of the Near East for him and his family, for safe asylum in the United States only to be shot to pieces while using a Turkish Airlines toilet

Not a bad month’s work for someone who isn’t employed by anyone in particular.

“You may want to check the flight path of Sang-Ashi. It was never intended to continue on out of the solar system. I believe it used Mars gravity to slingshot itself back in the direction of Earth.”

“I’m still not sure what that has to do with NASA or you ignoring a global manhunt to speak to someone,” Lt. Gilbert is trying to blend compassion with curiosity.

“You have a rescue mission underway, do you not?”

“The New Mayflower is on its way; yes that is no secret?”

The New Mayflower

The New Mayflower

NASA

“You would be well advised to compare the flight paths of your Mayflower and the Sang-Ashi probe.”

“NASA can do that Mr. Afridi, especially since a security breach was uncovered in the Mission protocols.”

“Then you have seen what these people are capable of. Do not underestimate their reach or cunning.”

“I will pass on your concerns.” Sandi Gilbert removes her flight cap to add, “Please excuse me for saying so, but whoever “they” are, have been dogging your ass ever since you left Talibanistan.”

Thank you for noticing…….. now can I see my family?”

— Some lessons can only be learned the hard way and for NASA, a non-warring agency of peaceful exploration, it is difficult to shift mental philosophies mid-mission.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 124


pages 153 + 154

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 86

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 86

…“That’s right you terrorist fools,” adds the previously apprehensive now animated Francine, noticing that the odds may soon even out…

Related image

Dogs Playing Poker, 1903 – C. M. Coolidge

“As you may have guessed, I am not Gurkhas Dhangotma; in fact, my name is not important. What does matter is that we have you and this female as hostages and we insist that you cancel that silly rescue plane to save your imperialistic friends.”checklist-001

The foreigner’s English fluency is markedly better than he recalls, spoken with the conviction of 10 other automatic weapons.

 

“Sorry Pal! That bird goes off at 11:57 C.S.T. no matter what happens to me, especially since you snakes did such a good job of slithering in under our radar.” Roy is matter-of-fact, having the facts and a lump at the top of his spine.

“You are risking your lives for those of two others so far away? What do they matter?”

“I only speak for me, but I have had it with all you fringe groups trying to have it your way. Jealousy is not a cause to follow; it is a coward’s lot in life… and if you haven’t looked around lately, you may have done-waked-up the good guys.”Related image

“That’s right you terrorist fools,” adds the previously apprehensive now animated Francine rolls the dice, noticing that the odds may soon even out.

With his bluff being called in question, “Gherkin” does not panic or display fear, “We are not terrorists, for if we were such men, we would have opened fire on your rescue vessel with our gunship, instead of bothering with you two. We have no need of furthers deaths when we can accomplish our feat of putting an end to the colonization of space without firing a canon. We will interfere with your silly rescue.”

t-minus-to-launch-001Give the man credit for his utter gall, but as Braden King blares “t-minus 00:20.00 minutes” Roy has achieved his ace-in-the-hole, in gambling terms.

“You are determined Gherkin, I’ll give you that, but at the 20 minutes mark your best laid plans have left you fail-safeempty handed.” Roy walks freely in the brawlers’ circle. “The launch is now in fail-safe mode. Only the mission computers can abort the launch…..and they do not know a gun from a slingshot.”

“You are bluffing.”

“Am I?”


THE RETURN TRIP

poker

by Mollie B

Episode 86


page 105

 

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 78

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 78

…Suddenly, stranded & pregnant in space is trumped by, “Are we taking off?”

stranded-in-space-001

“What did NASA tell us about the efficacy of birth control in a semi-weightless environment?”

“Dontellmeyouare?!?!?”

“Bingo, give that man a cigar!” Celeste can only make light of delicate condition. “I are-you-sure-001believe that I have become the guinea pig for an unscheduled NASA experiment.”

After a flood of possible emotional responses runs its course, he concludes, “I wonder if Engineer Karl had the foresight to build a nursery into (NASA’s rescue ship) New Mayflower’s medical bay?”

“WE don’t need to worry; women have been giving birth in unusual places for four millennia.”

“In space, damn Cel, are you sure you’re pregnant? We don’t need to be distracted by a false alarm.”

The mother-to-be runs her hands through her blonde hair front to back, “It has been about 15 years, but yes I am 100 percent sure and this time feels different, maybe the daughter you’ve been wanting?”

schawonkschawonkabelumphhh !!!!!!Related image

The tender family moment is stunned back into present realities by a vigorous combination of a good healthy belch and a Winnie the Pooh sound effect.

Suddenly, stranded & pregnant is trumped.

“Are we taking off?”

Sampson pauses to identify the cause of the quaking. “No, no we’re not, but I think it is time we more thoroughly assess our newfound sanctuary.”

“Along those lines, I think we should give this thing a name, since we can’t read extraterrestrial and just because we can.” Celeste thinks on it, while Sam starts scanning the bridge of this bucket of unknown metal. “Newfound sanctuary, Newfoundland Province Canada… how does the
NEWFOUNDLANDER
 sound?”

“That’s a good one, the NEWFOUNDLANDER! So it shall be newfoundlander-001from this day forward,” Commander McKinney proclaims,
entering it into his continuing log of the newest incarnation of the Space Colony and temporary Mars City. “So let’s check out this galaxy trotter.”–


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 78


page 96

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 74

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 74

…Miss Bouchette, can I count on you to help me out here? I will grant you blanket access with Level 1 Security status

security-level-1-001

“You could barely speak English this morning when we spoke this morning.”

“I have not had the honor to meet you until now; I would like to express the gratitude of all the Nepalese people for being part of the great Space Colony. My government sends its deep condolences for the horrible accident.”

This man was genuinely sincere and definitely not the Gherkin Dogma he had met right before the Colony disappeared from the Mars Mockup.

“Are you saying that you didn’t man this station until after Space Colony was taxi-001destroyed?” Roy is more confused than ever.

“That is correct Director Crippen. I was late in arriving because my taxi driver could not find Galveston Launch Facility; it seems he took a wrong turn as we left George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is odd because you can see Colony Mission Control from many miles away.”

“Sounds fishy to me Director Roy,” Francine interjects her opinion. “I know that many cabbies are new to this country, but they cannot be blind.”

All the while digesting and deciphering, Roy is finally seeing the handwriting on the wall. As Phil Jansky’s replacement continued to ramble on about other trip delaying travails, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together:

 1)   Philip Jansky, Spatial Debris Specialist {20 year NASA employee} dies of a rare & sudden cerebral hemorrhage

2    That death occurs at a critical time in Space Colony 1’s mission, with the McKinneys on Mars surface

3)   In a scramble to replace personnel, a Nepalese technician is flown in by supersonic transport

4)  Space Colony 1 disappears from its orbit around Mars, cause unknown

“From Earth-to-Mars, no one’s laughing from here-or-there.”

5)  A rescue mission involving the premature launch of the New Mayflower is hastily thrown together

6)  One man, two manred man, blue man. A human shell game has been going on, with sketchy timelines and miss-identifications

“Time is winding down Francine and I do not have time to do a full-blown investigation. Can I count on you to help me out here? I will grant you blanket access with Level 1 Security status.”

“A good reporter never turns down the opportunity to do what she does best.” She is developing more than a casual interest in both this interplanetary intrigue and this intriguing man specifically. “You can count on me….as long as I get the exclusive.”

Roy is going to need the help…no matter what she is angling.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 74


 

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 73

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 73

“What happened to your lousy English and didn’t your hair used to be black?”…

plot-thickens3

The Plot Thickens by Donna MacDonald

“Then why has his hair color changed?” On a thin whim he says, “Let’s pay Gherkin a visit.” With time dwindling, hunches played trump hunches ignored.

Roy Crippen douses power to the what-not room as he and Francine scamper over to the nerve center of mans’ first colony away from Earth. From scamper to gallop, their pace quickens and if Francine had any doubts as to the seriousness of the situation, all she need do is keep up with the bulldog in front of her.

In a big building with odd angles and unexpected transitions, Roy barrels over an unsuspecting  technician, sending him sprawling. He excuses himself, sort of, while acquiring a limp in the process.

Francine mostly ignores the tech, asking, “Are you going to be alright Roy?”

“What…. Oh yes, come on,” not a complete answer.

“I hope I’m not out of line, but are we chasing a ghost here. You are making a pretty big fuss about one little man.” She is not privy to Roy’s unfolding theory.

He stops to collect himself, address her issues with a glance and a right hand thru his floppy brown straight hair. Francine straightens his tie thereby restoring the look of a man in control.

He speaks, seemingly into the thin air, alerting security as to the nature of his pending confrontation, rejoining the previously frantic pace, with a newswoman bring up the rear.

At this late stage of the approaching launch, less than an hour now, nearly every eye sneaks a peek at NASA’s man of the hour. He looks like a man under the gun, acts like a man possessed, and don’t you dare get in his way.

With Roy grabbing the Spatial Debris tech by the shoulders, spinning him around in-your-face style, the man is startled by the aggressive move, “There is no problem in the launch window, Mr. Crippen, only some small stuff out at 500,000 out.”

“What happened to your lousy English and didn’t your hair used to be black?”

“I do not know what you are talking about, Sir.”

“What is your name and when did you get here?”

“My name is Gurkhas Shah Dhangotma and I have been here all day, except for a short break early this morning. I had been on duty for sixteen hours. Someone relieved me for an hour, no more.”

“You could barely speak English when we spoke this morning.”

plot-thickens


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 73


page 90

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 7

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 7

The prime of Roy’s career was spent languishing through the lean years of the space program. There was a dirty word used back then, “privatization”; a sorry excuse for a shortsighted, budget strapped exploration climate...

privatization-001

 

It is dawn on the southeast coast of Texas. The same sun the warms the planet Mars, reflects off the still, new-mayflower-001February water of the Gulf of the Americas and Roy Crippen. He stalks about the base of the deep-space shuttle named New Mayflower, expecting to be alone in his vigilance, only to find its Commander going through the same pre-mission routine. Ever since the Challenger disaster, some 5 decades past, uneasiness seems to be passed along from one mission commander to the next.

“What a surprise Rick! You can’t shake 1986 either, can you?” The
current manifestation of Roy was but a 2nd grade schoolboy back then, yet he speaks from a heavy heart, having watched the disaster unfold in a Florida classroom.

Richard Stanley, who was born in 1999, ranks as the number 3 commander behind the two-you-know-who’s presently orbiting Mars. “Yes that and the fact that I will not be strolling around (Heinlein’s) Green Hills of Earth for a couple years. It is an ominous thought, losing 2 years and all.”

“Great genre reference buddy, we all love Heinlein, but I refuse to swallow that ‘losing two years’ stuff. I would trade places with you, like that!” Roy snaps his fingers. “After 52 years I have been labelled a has-been; 52 and not allowed to fly, how fair is that? I could fly a Boeing 967 at supersonic speeds for any commercial air carrier, for 18 more years in the friendly skies and but none in a ship outside the stratosphere.”

Roy is not lying about his desire to fly missions. The prime of his career was spent languishing through the lean Obama years of the space program. There was a dirty word used back then, “privatization”, a sorry excuse for a shortsighted, budget strapped exploration climate. The only government money was spent on, “…….drones and probes, probes, rovers and drones,” he recalls with more than an ounce of disdain.

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ediitors-note(Official song and video of the Challenger 7 fund. Flight and crew of the Challenger in 1986. Sung by Jerry Dycke, written by Jerry Dycke and Charlie Whitaker in 1986. The film edited for this project was provide by NASA to John Biffar who produced the video. The song was produced and arranged by Steve Rogers.)


THE RETURN TRIP

Gobbling up the Commons. Cartoon by Ahmed Abdallah

Gobbling up the Commons. Cartoon by Ahmed Abdallah

Episode 7


 

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 3

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 3

  …“Thanks for the warning guy,” taunts Sampson McKinney, while turning to his wife and co-pilot to quip, “just what everybody needs, interplanetary caller ID.”…

chronicle-001

At this very minute, supplanting the interplanetary cruise control, Chronicle, the McKinney’s deep-space shuttle’s automated docking systems spring to life. Dormant circuits surge with electrical current, a familiar computer-generated voice starts the show; “YELLOW ALERT. FORTY THOUSAND KILOMETERS FROM DECELERATION. COMMENCING IN NINETY SECONDS.”

The Chronicle’s mainframe speaks in predictable Hawking-like monotone; not the most exciting traveling companion, but artificial companions are better than none at all.

“Nice to hear your rusty voice AL,” not HAL of 2001, “it’s been a while.”

AL the Chronicle’s Interactive Computer

“TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED FITFY-ONE HOURS TO BE EXACT COMMANDER,” the computer states flatly. “PLEASE SPARE ME YOUR HUMOR.”

“Or about 100 days, you precise piece of cr………..”

“INCOMING COMMUNICATION FROM COLONY CONTROL!”

“Thanks for the warning guy,” taunts Sampson McKinney, while turning to his wife and co-pilot to quip, “just what everybody needs, interplanetary caller ID.”

Colony Control

“We heard that Chronicle. It is against international regulations to criticize the on-board hardware…”

The new human voice is that of Braden King, Earth’s mouthpiece to space travelers for two decades.

“Long time no see King. It seems like a year since we heard your dulcet tones.”

“You’ve logged 25 million miles since we had you dodge that rogue asteroid.”

“Yeah thanks for the heads-up old man. That gave me and Cel a chance to get reacquainted, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t want to hear the details Sam…..and happy new decade to you!” Braden King is more than Director of Communication for the LOVELL SPACE CENTER {formerly Elgin Air Force Base, Florida} and Colony Control Command Com to Sampson & Celeste McKinney. This silver-haired, golden-throated gem of a man has become a surrogate parent figure to them, as well as tending to their teenage sons, Deke and Gus, while they are away.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Rogue Asteroid

Episode 3


 

page 5

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