THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 150

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 150

…Braden King feels like he has been granted a fresh lease on that life and he needs to take full advantage of it and that means a change in lifestyle…

A NEW LEASE ON LIFE by UZO EGONU


This picture was drawn by Erika Aoyama 11/16/ 2002

Home is where the heart is; a tired old phrase with new meaning for Francine and Roy. Their days of freewheeling solitude are coming to an end; work like a dog, return to an empty apartment, check all social outlets, make sure the world hasn’t gone mad, grab a quick bite and do it all over again tomorrow. —

— And until Sampson and Celeste packed their bags for Mars, Braden King also lived to work, he would come home to help work his 2500 acres and 1000 animals, catch up on the nightly news, eat some beef, steal 5 hours sleep and do it all over again.King Ranch logo

But King Ranch now teams with the vitality of two teen-aged McKinney dynamos, never more important to him, considering the status of their parents, not to mention his own recent health scare. There isn’t anything that cannot wait, unless something can’t wait, then it is filed neatly into a simple list of priorities; family first, everything else second. Never having married has made for tiny family reunions. And you can’t choose family, we all know.

Friends on the other hand, you can choose and do, while at other times they choose you and the fun is in seeing where you stand in a year, five years, etc.

He feels like he has been granted a fresh lease on that life and he needs to take full advantage of it. That means a change in lifestyle, from the high octane excitement of daily interaction at the Galveston Launch Facility, with whoever is outside Earth’s atmosphere at the time, to working at home from the ranch, keeping track of now ten ranch hands and two McKinney children who depend on him for everything. Braden King will not be making the same mistakes.

New projects are a good way to take your mind off of your old ways, the old days when the International Space Station required attention or that shiny-new Space Colony 1 was being towed into place or you could hardly pull yourself from watching it crawl away from SpaceDock.

With Francine and Roy coming over to spend some time, he has dusted off a 3’ cylinder that has been sitting in his hall closet, taking it over to the dining room table, removing the coiled parchment inside. It is an architectural rendering of house, three bedrooms, two baths poised on a west-facing slope about 200 yards from the main house.

As he remembers, he and Roy had been in serious discussions over the project that would be Crippen’s home away from the space program.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 150


page 142

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

…“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?” asks the President of the United States…

Francine could not possibly guess what Roy is about to tell the leader of the free world, of all people.

“Please don’t beat around the bush. What the hell happened to the United Korean Peninsula’s sovereign property? I have to tell them something…… and I have a stump speech to deliver in 10 minutes.”

“I’m sure that will be a Democratic knee-slapper!” Roy is sure that the President has heard the rumblings about Roy’s possible political plans. “We have thrown a wet blanket over the whole Sang-Ashi thing and I guess you can spin it any way you want.”

“Well then just spin-it-out man!”

“We have indisputable proof that Sang-Ashi was built by the Koreans for the sole purpose of sabotaging the Space Colony program, doing whatever it takes to stop it in its tracks. To that end, they have used a deep-space probe to disguise their destructive ways.

“In response to that aggression, we needed to disable Sang-Ashi as it was about to take out the New Mayflower as well. However, the crew did not pull the trigger, the onboard mainframe did.”

This information produces differing reactions; Francine cannot believe Roy was so blunt. President Sanchez sits down, aghast at the notion.

“We can’t do that!” he proclaims.

“We had to take defensive measures,” Roy indirectly crediting Aldona Afridi. “We are not going to sit on our hands while two rogue global powers have their way with us!”

“Two? Who is the other one?”

“Talibanistan.”

“That’s impossible. My Secretary of State tells me that he has a working relationship with Kamran Khan-Nutkani.”

“Sure it works for them! And who do you think is behind the freeing of Samiq Gaad and the kidnapping of the McKinney boys?” He warns, “Do not be hoodwinked by a Talibanistani Trojan Horse.”

“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?”

“Think about Sampson and Celeste McKinney, stranded on Mars, running out of food, water, and oxygen.”

“The country would not stand for news of their deaths, they adore that couple,” he makes a politically generic statement.

“Exactly.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Talibanistan

Episode 148


page 140

THE RETURN TRIP -Episode 138

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 138

…Roy Crippen’s 3-2-1-0 plan is already as obsolete as Sputnik…

3. Elucidate his concept of Francine employment,

       c) to her and NASA.

2. Clarify the status of the McKinney boys care,

       b) as neither he or Braden can do it right now.

1. Describe his feelings for her,

       a) when he doesn’t fully understand them.

Oh. Pray that she feels the same about him,

       No) now that he has left himself open for a huge fall.

PEMS

1. It doesn’t hurt to pray.

2. She must have quit her job or she wouldn’t be here now.

3. She has the whole ranch eating out of her hand.

“I am impressed Francine! For a city slicker, it looks like you have taken to life out here very well,” Roy kisses her on the cheek, just as if he has been doing it for years. There is something about assumed affection that is good for building a solid relational foundation…. he thinks.

“I like it out here,” she kisses him back, “and forgive me for wondering why you don’t have a house of your own on the ranch?”

“That happens to be on my “someday” list of things to do, but there never seemed to be any hurry, with me eating, living, and breathing Space Colony 1.”

“And I guess you will be doing the same with Space Colony II?” Francine is fishing.

“Things are happening, even changing so fast that I may have to make some mid-flight adjustments. Like right now, for example: If I could, I would head for the sawmill shed and start picking out lumber for that house. Trouble is, I’d be borrowing bits and pieces from everyone else’s life to make something out of mine.”

“Did you ever stop to think that that is how it is done?” Francine is setting the hook.

“Well, I guess I should start by delegating more at work…”

“You can start by coming into the house and talking to me. I think we have some new ground to cover.” Francine begins to reel him in.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 138


page 130

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

Cunning by Skia on DeviantArt.com

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

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 118 + 119

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 72

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 72

…the man he is watching is as cool as a comet in between stars and manning his post like he belonged there…

comet

Jim Scotti’s Comet Artwork

“There is somebody in this complex from Nepal, that strange little tech named Gherkin who replaced Phil Jansky. I wonder if there is a connection.”

“And you don’t dare question someone’s qualifications. Political correctness has been the ruin of this world,” Francine adds her opinion about questioning anything about anybody… and the fallout.

Without hesitation Roy brings the room consuming monitor to life. Francine can see that it is not an ordinary one, seeming to follow Roy’s slightest gesture, the picture races through various angles of Colony Control.

A Happy Gherkin

It does come to rest, Roy’s steely blues focused on a shot of Gurkhas {not Gherkin} Shah Dhangotma. Of all the Hindi/Arab/Buddhist, Middle and Far East cultures in of this selective space community, this particular man has left him with an uneasy no-peaceful feeling; replacing a previously healthy and indispensable man in Phil Jansky. And what is worse and more telling, is that he doesn’t even know who is doing the hiring since the death of Fred Cabell. It’s enough to put his spinning head on a swivel.

But if he were the informant or the mole or the mastermind, any of the three, the man he is watching is as cool as a comet in between stars and manning his post like he belonged there. But Roy cannot clear his mind’s ear of the man’s clumsy English in the moment before Space Colony 1’s ruin.

“Keep an eye on that guy,” Francine is told, “if he makes any sudden moves, give a holler.”

She obliges and can actually be helpful after getting a few quick tips about controlling that section of the screen… with a blink of an eye.

2018 Map Before the formation of Talibanistan

Roy turns to text searches that may support his flimsy suspicion, or not. Dhangotma’s personnel file is bland and incomplete, though the Baikonur Cosmodrome is listed as experience. Even his file picture has mug shot written all over it, but it is not viewed by someone who knows a hoot about the man.

In alternating between the files and the live video, comparing it to their meeting earlier in the day, his eyes tell him ‘not the same guy’; his memory screams ‘he had jet-black hair, not dark brown’. He knows that you don’t change Spatial Debris techs like you change passwords.

“What’s he been up to?”

“He raised his hand, got up and came back a minute or two
later. My guess it was a quick pee.”

“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.


 THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 72


page 68

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 67

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 67

…Roy Crippen’s thoughts degrade to the horrifying events of 12 hours ago, when everything was going at the same giddy canter then, until things reached the point of no return

aviation_artist-alan_hindle_painting_vickers_vimy_alcock_brown_point_of_no_return-01

Point of no Return – Vickers Vimy Transatlantic flight of Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown- by Alan Hindle

An eight month round trip awaits the 3 modern day Mayflower’s astro-sailors, prepared now to be flung away from Earth’s gravity out to a new completely literal New World. {There was supposed to be a few dozen others aboard} Roy speaks to Rick Stanley, the commander of the rescue mission, who not coincidentally was the understudy for Chronicle’s  assignment, without the benefits of a cutie copilot; his 2nd has chest-hair with the name of Saul.

“As soon as you get within hailing range, at about half way there, please go over the shuttle-to-lander docking procedure, it has never been done in space.”

“What if they don’t have the power to lift off?”

“Well… in that case you will need to test your landing skills ‘cause it ain’t going to be like Elgin A.F.B (Lovell Space Center),” Roy is stressing flexibility in the face of fluidity. “I do not want you coming back empty handed.”

“I have been running through all the possibilities one by one, Roy.” There is only one person who has  Sampson McKinney’s flying skills, but she is in the same hope-lacking boat, so 2nd place goes to Rick Stanley. “What I can’t do, Sammy Mac will tell me, no doubt.”

“The new booster package should get you off the ground and out, right Karl?”

“Escape velocity is 5.027 km/sec, which is less than half of Earth’s, so if you take off at a low trajectory you can get up and out with minimal fuel consumption.”

“Yeah, it would be a bitch if we had to coast home, but I am hoping we can do this in space.”

USS Hillary R Clinton

The brief statistical back-and-forth ends when the countdown demands Commander Rick’s full attention. Every minute passing brings him closer to a launch that has only been attempted in a simulator, yes a simulator. The New Mayflower is perched at a 45º angle, aboard a 100 yard ramp and ready to be hurled, like an F-77N Navy fighter off the flight deck of the USS Hillary R Clinton, knifing through the atmosphere, while missing every orbiting object circling the globe.

Roy’s thoughts degrade to the horrifying events of 12 hours ago. Things were going at the same giddy canter then, until things reached the point of no return. Just what was the exact cause of that muddle had to be set aside for the current rescue mission, but he would definitely sift through the evidence leading to Space Colony’s unexplained demise.


THE RETURN TRIP

space-colony-1-disaster-001

Episode 67


page 64

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 58

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 58

Image result for quotation marksImage result for quotation marks…Thank you watching this special report, I am Steven Sharkey. We will be seeing you at our 5:30 Newscast,..

pregnant-pause

…I get one (plucking) line at the end? What is that?” Only some of that reaches the air…

“Nnnooooooo,” screams Deke McKinney, leaping to his feet, a boiling flash of blood flowing to his brain. The brothers stand together, eyes fixed to the televiewer.

Vertical-001Vertical-001“These are Roy Crippen’s words to me,‘At approximately 11 AM local time, Space Colony 1vanished from NASA tracking. The astronaut team of Commander Sampson McKinney and Lt. Commander Celeste McKinney, who were on the surface of Mars at the time on the 1st surface exploration, are believed to be thriving, though communication has been disconnected on their end. There are sketchy clues to what may have occurred.

‘We have weighed all viable options and have decided to launch the deep-space shuttle New Mayflower, with a skeleton crew of three, to effect the rescue of the McKinneys before their means of survival have been exhausted. This unprecedented Midnight launch will retrieve two of the World’s greatest space pioneers.’

“He finished by telling this reporter, ‘Plans are already in the making, discussed by our consortium partners, to build a second orbiting Colony in place starting before this year is out.’

“This is Francine Bouchette and KHST 13 will continue to monitor this tragedy and will bring you the latest, whenever that will be… back to you Steven.”Image result for blooper

Thank you watching this special report, I am Steven Sharkey, we will be seeing you at our 5:30 Newscast,closes an embarrassingly mortified co-anchor. “I get one (plucking) line at the end? What is that?” Only some of that reaches the air


 THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 58


page 55

 

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 55

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 55

…A cold chill travels up her spine at the thought of the reprehensible plight of the McKinneys…

time-magazine-001

Since the newswoman is so close to going with this story live, she takes a deep breath to reassess the wisdom of her coming actions. In the big scheme of things, nothing is bigger than {breaking} news of a probable Space Colony disaster, but in her hours compiling file footage, Francine has come to admire the husband-wife astronaut team, who have invested their lives, sacrificed valuable family time, and now may be doomed to sacrificing their lives, literally.

Image result for #1Image result for #2She discovers a hidden reserve of compassion deep down inside. It has never been clearer why the attractive couple ranked #1 & #2 in  TIME MAGAZINE’s 100 Most Influential People issue, for the second consecutive year. Last year they were just appearing on the national scene as an epic family.

A cold chill travels up her spine at the thought of the reprehensible plight of these good folk.

What had started out as breaking news about the demise of Space Colony 1 unexpectedly evolves into a mournful hodge-podge of doom and gloom, mostly because of the time she would devote to Sampson and Celeste McKinney, their lives on Earth and their fate in space. But the truth is, the details are meager and the creative latitude too tempting.Image result for 4:30

The script as she wrote it has a somber tone, with a theme that challenges NASA’s goals and the price it has exacted on the world economy, along with unrealized expectations. It is 4:30 and she programs her words into the teleprompter, something she almost never does.

When she takes a break before heading to make-up and hair, the gaunt face of Roy Crippen, whose eyes display the stress of unmitigated devotion, keep popping into her brain. He has become the face of Space Colony 1, unfailingly cooperative to a fault and polite beyond belief; all those inane questions from ignorant neophytes. She cannot help but project the man’s current mental state and her uncensored news flash may push him past some unforeseen brink.

Suddenly, like a sinner being visited by an angel of mercy, Francine finds herself racing to the nearest desk phone.  In a minute she is hailing the line leading directly to the Galveston launch facility. She gets funneled into a cybex satellite telecommunication router.

“Galveston Launch, we are currently unavailable due to technical problems.”

It sounds like a computer generated voice.

“Oh yeah – you can *#%+@&! – you stupid machine! I need to speak with Mr. Roy Crippen and I mean now!”

“I am sorry but he is unavailable.”newsroom-001

That is not an automated voice. Oops.

“My name is Francine Bouchette, from KHST 13 Television, Houston. I have urgent information that I need to discuss with Mr. Crippen.”

“There is a news conference scheduled for one o’clock AM and your station will be receiving a press release shortly. Until then, he remains unavailable.” She is firm.

Francine is even more firm, “I know what happened to Space Colony 1.”

There is no response.

“I am going live in twelve minutes.”

“Please hold the line.

If she hadn’t stopped smoking, in the interest of white teeth and porcelain skin, this would be the perfect time for a 100 Slim Menthol. The digital clock clicks down to 9 minutes before the live cut-in.

“Get on the stick Lady,” she mumbles into the phone.

It is three more minutes before an anxious male voice joins the connection.

“What exactly do you think you know about Space Colony, Ms. Bouchette,” this man doesn’t beat around the bush.


 THE RETURN TRIP

angel_of_mercy_by_fluro_knife

Angel of Mercy by Fluro Knife deviantart.com

Episode 55


page 52

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 54

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 54

…When Francine concentrates on a task at hand (instead of her 15-story ego) it amazes even herself

Image result for ego artwork

Stella Im Hultberg ‘Alter Ego’ Painting

For once in her life, Francine escapes the limelight to seek out and pick the brain of the station’s NASA expert; when in doubt, go to those in the know. In this space-saturated news environment, admittedly, she did not pay close attention to the Space Colony story, merely glossing over the copy her “inept script writer” provided for broadcasts.

Being the weekend, the space geek is at home, so she must do some videophone work to get her information, “Good afternoon Gilly, can you give me a few minutes?” The person on Francine’s screen is not thrilled, but is professional enough to comply.

Randi Gilbert

“Sure Miss Bouchette, what can I do for you,” Randi Gilbert, who is a former test pilot for the Air Force, has a fluid pipeline to the goings-on both at Lovell and Galveston.

“Say, I am working on this story for tonight’s cast and I need some background stuff about Space Colony 1 and that married couple Celeste and Sampson McKinney. I have been looking at file files, but I’m not getting a good feel for them as real people.”

“They are THE story of the 21st Century so far Francine…”

Gilbert goes on to tell the story of a true space family, whose heritage and focus is all about exploration, “to boldly go” as once was said.

She goes on to explain just how massive an undertaking that the world-cooperative-project truly is. 135 countries, with two or so notable exceptions, have pooled their talent and resources to give the planet Earth an out if-you-will, a relatively nearby outpost, as well as a future home to hundreds of settlers…

“Thank you for everything Randi, we will have to do lunch one of these days.”

Like that will ever happen,

“You bet Francine.”

That would be goodbye for now.

Dominic Urbano, Digital Artist

Dominic Urbano, Digital Artist

When Francine concentrates on a task at hand, instead of her 15-story ego, it amazes even herself. Behind that brazened façade lays an appreciable amount of untapped potential, perhaps needing an infusion of COMountain Dew carbonation to encourage the coming out of that trapped talent.

Her further research centers around the year 2018, about the time the Space Colony project morphed from the state of figures and computer animation, to a worldwide financial octopus; the substantive mass of lightweight titanium it has ultimately become {unthinkably became?}. With Galveston so close at hand, the crux of R & D for generations of NASA ventures, KHST’s story files are crammed with stories of the men and machines that explore beyond Earth’s atmosphere.


THE RETURN TRIP

Jung’s Model of the Psyche.

Jung’s Model of the Psyche.

Episode 54


page 52

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 48

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 48

We have two people alive on Mars and we will not rest until they are safe, back here on Earth!…

Space Colony!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” A dazed technician stands, face paled by disbelief.

“It’s gone…” All he can do is point at the mission mockup and the flashing light that no longer shows anSC1 explodes orbit line around Mars. With all the distractions, no one had been monitoring the status lights; one green blink on the surface, none in orbit.

“Mr. Crippen, what has happened,” Aldona Afridi has more than a passing interest in the goings on?

Roy frantically seeks out key faces around the room. Total shock applies, with some tears on the move, spreading among most of the assembled 100.

cropped-mars3.jpgThey mourn the realization that any further contact with the McKinneys, now helplessly stranded on the Plain of Xanthe, would be impossible. The orbiting Colony was their only lifeline and that now seems utterly destroyed.

As good a good leader does, Roy Crippen collects his thoughts and regroups. There are contingency plans for such an unthinkable occurrence as this. He must sort through the options; no matter how limited they seem at this point.

“Mr. Frodo… sorry Afridi,” he has Tolkien on his brain. “We will be in touch with you in the near future. In fact I will arrange for you and your family to be picked up by American operatives in Turkey. Thank you for trying to warn us, perhaps we will find a place for you after all. Please leave your contact info with Mr. King.”

“I thank you for your kind offer, but isn’t the Space Colony project now terminated,” assumes the guilt-ridden accidental co-conspirator?

mckinneys-of-space-001“We have two people alive on Mars and we will not rest until they are safe, back here on Earth!”

The McKinneys are aware that Roy Crippen will not give up on them.

“Please ready New Mayflower for immediate liftoff,” Crippen commands, “zero hundred hours. No later!”

A rare midnight launch and don’t spare the afterburners!!


 THE RETURN TRIP

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new-mayflower-001

Episode 48


page 46