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Saturday, September 24, 2016

X Plus Bun - The Delivery

I was sitting in the back of the craft, in an improvised seat, playing the role of glorified ballast. Next to me, in the crush-proof container, was a vat of antigen for vaccine production. Abby sat up front, acting as the commander of the craft. According to regulations, I was supposed to sit next to her, acting as the "pilot." Today, the moment we undocked from the "Buzzard," we had left the regulations behind, in a higher orbit, about five hours ago. We spent two days modifying the interior of the landing shuttle to be able to make the emergency delivery on time. Oh, we had to make the antigen ourselves, too, because the needed silicone compound could only be made reliably in the environment of microgravity. It's a good thing Abby had a knack for biochemistry when she got into space flight.
Mr. Toes
The window for delivery was closing fast. If anyone was to survive the plague, the vaccine production had to be finished in the next seventy-two hours. Out of the five cities still standing, only one was near a landing facility capable of receiving our vehicle.
By pure chance, we had the requisite equipment for making the antigen on board the "Buzzard." You see, the "Buzzard" is a recovery vessel, and we just got done dismantling an old medical research lab slated for scrap. The company had to talk us through the equipment set up for the manufacturing process itself.
We were almost done with the re-entry procedure. We didn't converse unless we had to. There wasn't much to talk about anyway. There was nothing to do for us, either. In this phase of flight, we let the computer do all the flying. If we tried to pilot the craft by paw, we would be dead. None of us could act with the precision and speed of the Response Control System. We would end up getting torn to shreds by the aerodynamic forces
The ride was getting bumpy now, and I started to feel the force of gravity. As our deceleration progressed, I felt heavier and heavier until I could barely move my paws. We were almost done with the hottest part of the re-entry, meaning the hot plasma outside would not have us this time. I kept monitoring the flight parameters projected onto the visor of my helmet. The craft's temperature was decreasing ever so slightly; I bet Abby was thinking about preparations for the landing itself.
Then, I felt the hit. A shudder traveled through the body of the craft and up my spine until the hair stood up all over my head. Indicators started turning red, some I've only seen in simulation. "What was that?" I asked. Audible alarms were blaring and overlapping, creating an ominous, high-pitched, death rattle cacophony. "Starboard wing; thermal protection breach," said Abby, unfazed. I was it, and I could do nothing to help. The temperature of the left wing tip was rising. The RCS system was in overdrive, trying to remain in control of the vehicle. I felt the vibrations getting more and more violent. "We don't have much time," I said.
"We won't make it.", announced Abby, then we called out in unison, "Abort to orbit!" I barely noticed her paw turning the emergency abort switch. I blinked and said, "Copy that, Commander." I felt the rumble of the wings retracting and the nose of the craft pitching up, followed by a serious thump in the back as the main engines kicked in. The wing tip temperature remained hot, but it stopped rising.
Even this time, it looked like the plasma would not get us.
The abort to low orbit was successful. We barely made it. Because the orbit was so low, we couldn't stay there very long. As soon I could, I got out of my restraints and floated toward Abby. I pushed off too hard and bounced off the wall, flying toward Abby like a crazy eight ball. I grabbed the handlebar on the side of her seat and held on to it. She was already running diagnostics on the flight control subsystems. As we had suspected, the starboard elevator was out of commission. The diagnostic check reported it as non-existent. Later that evening, we found out that it was still there, but it was damaged beyond our means of repair. I kept my eyes on the pressure indicator. We took off our helmets as soon as it lit up green. I started getting the shakes, and all I could do was stick my head under Abby's chin, almost crawling into her spacesuit. We stayed like that for a while, drifting, listening to the silence flooding the craft once the mayhem died down.
"Well, that's one fine adventure, isn't it, Commander?"
"Indeed, Mr. Toes," responded Abby.
We found some chewy biscuits and sipped some water, and it never tasted so good. We didn't get roasted, and that was good enough for now.
We did some math we didn't want to do. The ride back to orbit used up most of our fuel, and now we had barely enough for the deorbit burn and the RCS thrusters. To make matters worse, we couldn't refuel from the "Buzzard." We could make only one attempt at a deorbit, followed by a high-speed landing at the aerodrome. Somehow, we had to figure out how to turn our craft into a simulator and at least try to get some practice flying this thing in a lifting body mode.
Mr. Toes
If we survived the landing and delivered the payload, we would find out on our hides how effective the vaccine from our antigen was. Then, we would be stuck on the surface, for Bun knows how long. Or we could wait here, bring the "Buzzard" down remotely, leave, and try to live with ourselves.

2 comments:

  1. So much responsibility on such little furry shoulders but everybun is kything good thoughts to them and we know they'll make the right decision.

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  2. Wee Mr. Toes fits in your hand! How adorable.

    ReplyDelete