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

“This is your last clue: One thing leads to another and we gave “it” a name,” Celeste Prompts.

“Itsaboutdamntime!”

“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

schawonkschawonkabelumphhh !!!!!!

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?”

newfoundlander-001“That’s a good one, the NEWFOUNDLANDER! So it shall be from 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 73

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 75

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 75

CHAPTER FIVE

Change-up

“Queen Francine” – the egotistical, self-serving, superficial diva, has been bent on clawing to the top of the competitive field of broadcast journalism…

queen-of-hearts-carved-artwork

The Queen of Hearts Red Artwork carved from Mangowood

 Personality (noun)  per’son’al’i’ty

  1. somebody’s set of characteristics
  2. characteristics making someone appealing
  3. somebody regarded as epitomizing traits
  4. famous person
  5. unusual person
  6. quality of being person
  7. personal comment
  8. distinguishing characteristics 

ediitors-noteDefinition provided by Dictionary.com,

 

It would seem that the Francine Bouchette, before Roy Crippen met her, has these
traits…

  1. best friend is a mirror
  2. has a phantom fiancee
  3. co-anchors avoid if they can
  4. treats interns like indentured servants
  5. gives scriptwriters fits

… is not one and the same. Roy Crippen has yet to meet that woman, though he wonders about her obsession with “exclusives”.

Indeed, there is no reconciling the definition with the facts, though there is plenty Francine in the first. The dedicated, concerned, sacrificial person, currently operating in the name of humanitarian justice, now working with NASA, is dichotomous when placed side-by-side with the egotistical, self-serving, superficial diva, bent on clawing to the top of the competitive field of broadcast journalism.

Francine Bouchette is truly a personality in every sense of the word. But as she prepares to continue the fresh quest to aid in the rescue of Sampson & Celeste McKinney, mercilessly stranded on Mars, the least desirable aspects of Queen Francine have been tabled; at least for now {and longer if the rest of Houston gets a vote}.

***Contrast this with the following glimpse of what is going on inside, the otherwise occupied, Roy Crippen’s analytical mind:

‘She is quite a lady. With her knack for getting to the heart of a story, I am surprised thinkershe’s not working for network news. She is ten times better than that Elle Fanning on Sixty Minutes. Boy, she tried do a piece on the Colony and by the time she was through asking dumb nonsensical questions or sticking her nose where it didn’t belong, I had had enough. The damnedest thing is that her misrepresentation of the project almost did as much damage as the accident that destroyed it… I wonder why she never married? She is as gutsy as they come, pretty as a picture and probably financially secure, what could be her downside?’

***The following is what Francine is thinking, during her time of frank introspection:

‘I’m not the person that I was yesterday, this whole experience with Roy has made me think, what kind of person is he looking to share the rest of his life with?… All the years I’ve wasted, mistreating everyone from United States Senators down to kids that may be looking up at her as role model…What has changed all of a sudden? Is it just because I am falling for some good looking science guy, probably goes to Star Trek Conventions and is what, 12 maybe 15 years older than me? What would people think? And how many people must I trample to get where I want?’

Enough of these long winded thoughts; it is time to focus on the successful launch of the new/improved deep-space New Mayflower!


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 75


page 70

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 71

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 71

…There is no reason to panic yet, but Miss Bouchette is here to help me put some pieces together, she being the only person who spoke with either a genuine informant… or a really good guesser…

Image result for informant painting

Informant from the 1980s by Mohammad Omran

As they dash inside Roy explains, “If I did not think this was of the utmost importance, I would not have asked you here. But I need to confirm the source of a smell in my control room, before I can act on any hunches.”

The freshly minted investigative duo and one armed {with two arms} escort enter Colony Mission Control, heading straight for Braden King, who will have the latest of the late news.

“The New Mayflower has been reprogrammed to liftoff at 11:57 to dodge a meteor… oh and and the downrange tracking is ready. That puts us on t-minus 1:49.55.” Braden has really pushed the whole ground crew in Roy’s short absence.

There is no reason to panic yet, but Miss Bouchette is here to help me put some pieces together, she being the only person who spoke with either a genuine informant… or a really good guesser. And we’re not talking about an old-fashioned-Chinese-like-cyber-attack.”

“Thank you for the professional manner in which you included us in your story. Those folks on Mars are dear to us and had you just blurted the news out, we would have lost control of things.” Braden doesn’t bother her with the wrenching details of Deke and Gus’ reaction to her report.

“We will be in the briefing room Braden, and not to be disturbed!”

“If there is a hitch in the countdown, I’ll let you know – t-minus 1:42 and counting.”

He nods, checks his PDA and opens the door to the classified room by placing his palm on the encoder on its right side. It is not as neat or pristine as she would have guessed one long littered table that is used for confidential meetings, taco parties and card games. Roy enters a ten character code into the comprehensive NASA database, brightening the 75” monitor on the wall to display personnel files that may hold the clue to an inside traitor.

But it is Francine who holds the key that unlocks the dark secret. She tells him every detail she could recall from that very hectic and eventful 10 minutes, which seemed much longer than 9 1/2 hours ago.

“Are you sure he had a Pakistani accent, I know that country became part of Talibanistan ten years ago,” asks Roy who knows just about everyone who has not bought into Space Colony 1.

“He said the wordsassalamu alaikum’, I looked that up; ‘may Allah’s peace be with you’ in the Arab culture. And he referred to Korean, Nepal and Taliban joy about the accident… and we are imperialistic infidels.”

The Nepal reference strikes a nerve.

“I wasn’t aware that Nepal had an axe to grind about the Mars project. But 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.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 71


page 66

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 66

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 66

We all knew, deep in our souls, that something like this could happen and yet here we are behind the 8-ball….

8-ball

Tell My Troubles to the 8 Ball by Martin Wong

meanwhile-caption-001“T-minus 2.75 hours and counting folks, the nuke propulsion is coming on line for the first time and all systems are go,” the intercom is buzzing with exciting news of stretching out the new souped-up engines, leaving only crew concerns and ground fog from getting the New Mayflower on its way.

Roy Crippen is in full-pace-space-mode. With both midnight and an untimely early-season tropical system moving north out the Gulf of the Americas getting closer, his nerves are starting to show. It is one hell of a time to test a new launch method. It is quite another risking more lives on the enhanced propulsion, even though NASA’s chief engineer has been perfecting things for 2 years, when perfection is impossible.

“If it is the last thing I do in NASA, Karl, I will see us into full-blown SOL technology,” speaking to Karl the engineer. “We do not belong in space if it takes two months to travel 100 million lousy miles.”

“There was no way we could foresee this accident,” insists the aging veteran of metals and motion.

“If it is an accident at all… don’t ask, I’ll tell you later” Some stories have no abridged versions. “We all knew, deep in our souls, that something like this could happen and yet here we are behind the 8-ball.” Roy draws a deep breath to continue, “And we have our two best people out there, having stuck out their necks farther than giraffe on stilts, confident that they would be safe…safe……safe my ass and living in a lander that is not designed for a sleepover, let alone 2 f***ing months.”

“Haven’t you risked your life for the space program? And how about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts, didn’t they stick their necks out? Remember the two Shuttle accidents?”

“And Fred Cabell and Phil Jansky… shit… and all we can do is wait & see what happens next. I was hired to do a job and I am back here scrambling…”

“Please do not succumb to the ‘it should have been me’ syndrome. Somebody once said, I think it was Herbert Hoover, ‘The older men start the wars that are fought by the young’, you get what I am saying Roy.” Old Karl speaks through a heart of experience, a reliable ticker that has been broken before, only to mend and go on.


THE RETURN TRIP

conqueringthesunsempire17

Conquering the Sun’s Empire by Harry Lange

Episode 66


page 61

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

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Episode 67


page 64

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 60

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 60

…No Tom Hanks that I can see. This isn’t Gilligan’s Island. Robinson Crusoe is long gone and we don’t have enough food to invite the Martians over to dinner…

Castaway by 88grzes deviantart.com

Castaway by 88grzes deviantart.com

meanwhile-caption-001In the moments following that breathtaking {not in a good way} flash of light high above the Martian atmosphere, several seconds elapsed before the ominous explosion could be felt. It was as thunderous as any blastoff of an old Atlas rocket.

Image result for tree blowing in wind

Tree Blowing In The Wind by Janell R Colburn

If the cornea singeing light and the eardrum piercing sound were not enough, the shock wave that swept down to the surface got Tycho to rockin’ as if it were a 150 yr. old oak tree in a tornado. Sampson had all he could handle in stabilizing the lander during the 20 second maelstrom.

Even after these unpredictable twist and turns, light and darks, the real scope of their predicament does not sink in until after the dust settles. It is Celeste who verbalizes the obvious, My dear God Sam, we are castaways!”

During those ensuing minutes, Sampson was giving pause to that very topic. “Yeah shit happens,” he is ultimately logical and is sifting through the best path to survival. “We can’t leave the surface, we’d waste fuel, we cannot produce enough gain to get a decent signal out past Deimos and we have to conserve oxygen for life-support.; other than that we’ve got it made.”

No Tom Hanks that I can see. This isn’t Gilligan’s Island. Robinson Crusoe is long gone and we don’t have enough food to invite the Martians over to dinner.” He assembles movie humor in the face of unspeakable despair.

“Ancient pop culture will not help our options… which are?”

“If I know Crip, he has the Mayflower on the pad, ready to go and if he is on top of things, he will give that buggy a boost… I left him with some propulsion improvements to work on, while we were out here in the peace of deep space.”

“How long do we have and when can they get here?”

“We should be able to hold out for a month or two. Fortunately we grabbed that extra fuel and food meant for those amateur lab-rats… I mean colonists of Mars City. I believe the New Mayflower can get here days before we have to go out and forage for food. And surprisingly, we can manufacture enough water and oxygen with what we have to work with outside our door.”martianpotatoes

“I knew I should have packed more Mark Watney Potatoes for a longer stay.”

“The way down was slick, it’s the return trip that will be the bitch.”

Humor is a self-defense mechanism.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 60


page 57

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 56

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 56

..I am about to break into local programming and then that damned “good” angel has to go and whisper in my right ear…

angel-in-my-ear

“What exactly do you think you know about Space Colony, Ms. Bouchette and do not beat around the bush,”asks Roy Crippen

She goes on to play the foreign recorded voice of the bearer of bad tidings.

“I will be frank {don’t call him Frank}, I am about to break into local programming with a KHST Special Report, having spent most of the afternoon putting together — then that damned “good” angel has to go and whisper in my right earShe summarizes the just of her breaking news.

“I see and you plan to act on this leak,” Roy speaks rhetorically. “At this point I could stonewall you; deny and deny again, but I will not. Whoever this guy is knows more than enough to be taken seriously.”

He chooses his words carefully.

“Even though much of what you offer is true, I think you are taking too pessimistic of a slant. We or you or your informer, nobody in fact can confirm the loss of life. The McKinneys are presently on the surface of Mars, and yes we cannot communicate with them, but we are launching the New Mayflower in 6 hours and we believe we can reach them in time.”survival-001

“Are you telling me that they can survive on Mars?”

“Not only do we think they will survive, we hold the hope of rebooting the Space Colony consortium with a second station. We are in this thing to win; titanium and wires can be replaced, but not the hope of all civilizations.”

Francine is truly moved by his inspiring affirmation, but does not swallow it whole.

“I respect that fact that you want to control the message, I get that, but I have a career duty to report the news, whatever and especially the magnitude of this; America and all your partners need to know.”

“I get that Ms. Bouchette, you have a virtual goldmine in your grasp,” Roy relents, “but you will be quoting me, using my words, NOT some ¼ hour funeral dirge about the space program and the McKinneys.”

“Are you telling me that I have an exclusive?”Related image

“I suppose it does. This wasn’t how I envisioned it coming down, but I don’t want those crackpot Koreans stealing the spotlight. I will forward my statement to you.”

Francine has just lost a huge juicy story, yet she does regain another somewhat less salacious one and she will be a better person for it. After two decades in the business, she has had an epiphany of conscience.

“I appreciate how much you agonized over this. I am not sure some of your competition would have had your self-restraint.new-mayflower-001

Now I have to send off the New Mayflower, minus the 30-some hopefuls {some paid their own way} that were scheduled to go… boy am I going to catch flack about that, I can hear them already.”

“Thank you for allowing KHST to break this story,” she is sincere and do you notice it was not all about “me”? “Please bring the McKinneys home!”


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 56


page 53 (end Ch. 2)

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

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 23

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 23

…Two key Mission personnel are dead, in one day at that…

meanwhile-caption-001

Mars City Mock-up

Mars City Mockup

“Planetary conditions are stable, touchdown grid confirmed.” Roy Crippen has settled in at Galveston Launch Facility to oversee the crowning moment of 20 years of work. Once Tycho comes back home to roost, after its 18 hour maiden excursion, his stay on the Texas coast will shift gears; to sending off the 21st Century version  of the floating boat filled with Brits, the New Mayflower, the first of three trips; winged people-movers that will add a decidedly human touch to a previously hominid-less planet. Mars City will be filled to the brim with 21st Century groundbreakers.

But that is tomorrow and today is today and other portentous profoundness. The Lovell Space Center’s attention is equally split between Mars and Galveston, with Roy Crippen as the connecting driving force for both. He contemplates those that he supervises, a sea of techs and specialists, tops in their field worldwide, 100 people comprising man’s future as good space citizens.

Spatial DebrisThere is one console, Spatial Debris Traffic for the Colony and Satellite tracking, which has an unfamiliar body seated there. For as long as Roy can remember, Phil Jansky has filled that seat.

“Where is Philip Jansky?” Something has slipped past him. He asks roving security, “Is he taking a break… now!?!”

“Jansky is dead, sir; we found him in his quarters when he didn’t confirm his 04:00 wakeup call.”

Roy’s mind starts somersaulting through any number of questions he could ask. He settles on, “Why am I the last to know?”

The security chief is embarrassed, if for no other reason than not knowing who dropped the ball. “The Coroner said he’d get back in touch with both autopsies.”

Two key Mission personnel are dead, in one day at that.

“I should hire a full-time mortician, set him up with an office,  he spends so much time here lately.” The mission head is losing control of personnel matters and his patience is flagging. “Who is Phil’spickle-b replacement?”

The guard checks his roster, “Gurkhas Shah-Dhangotma, from Kathmandu.”

“Never heard of him.  Who hired him with Fred Cabell gone? My God we have a Nepalese debris tracker. Aren’t they still Sherpa guides? This is space for crying out loud, not the Himalayas!

“Mr. Gherkin better be qualified. I do not like this, not at all!” he punctuates his rant sharply, while walking off a disquieting combination of anger and grief… even though “Gurkhas” in not a pickle.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 23


page 22

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 8

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 8

…“If you are trying to talk me out of the Commander’s chair on the New Mayflower, forget it; space is my future, not World League Baseball.”…

gut-check-001

The Mission of the New Mayflower is taking center stage.

“You must have girls  at every Air Force base..around the world I would bet.. but they will have to stand in line and wait Rick,” Roy is messing his dashing protégé Rick Stanley.

“Don’t get me wrong Crip. The space program is my life and probably always will. It’s just the little things about home that I’ll be missing; Spring training, the warm Southern sun, using my Symantec Telepathic Implant, Mexican Food, spring break, the Rio de Janeiro Red Snappers.”

“It sounds like baseball, fun and sun are your life, not Space Colony,” Roy points out. “If your heart is on the diamond or beach, you better get out while you can. I know of a dozen lieutenant commanders, who would be more than pleased, if you resumed your career with the Snappers.”

Roy is giving the young gun a gut-check.

“If you are trying to talk me out of the Commander’s chair on the New Mayflower, forget it; space is my future, not World League Baseball.”

“That is why I talked NASA into letting you play baseball six months a year, Rick my boy. You and you alone had to confront that crossroad in your career, answers only you can provide. For what it is worth, I knew you would make the right decision.”

“Yeah, well it was not as cut-and-dried as you make it sound. Baseball has been in my blood since I can remember,” Commander Stanley looks back at just one of his loves. “Thank you for allowing me to have two professions at once.”

“I’ll miss going to your Rio home games, I love that city! Can you still get me free tickets?”

“Sure Crip, box seats right next to Riva Riviera,” the wildly popular South American singing superstar.

“Hubba-hubba! She can sure shake……….”


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 8


page 8

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