Leaving Earth



Chapter 14: Cycle 4, Mount Ararat


A note from Warfox

Happy Friday the 13th everyone! This is also my 50th day actively working on this book! The Prologue has hit 1000 views! Story's rank is at 367, finally sub-400! Thank you all for helping me get this far with it!

Edit- 11/28/2018: What I hope will be a final draft, barring any major story changes. Part of the 'Would Purge' of Nov 2018.

In the traditional story of Noah and his Ark, after the forty days and nights of flooding the Ark came to rest on the mountain ranges of Ararat. Further translations and traditions of this telling had various names for the supposed peak that supported the Ark while it unloaded its cargo of people and animals onto its newly altered and scoured Earth. While the original stories tell of a range of mountains, subsequent stories gave name to specific peaks upon which the Ark came to rest. It was from these names that, once first observed, gave cause to Doctor Crenshaw’s colleagues to name the newly-discovered comet. Lubar was the name given in the book of Jubilees and in the traditions of Western Christianity it was called Masis, and later Ararat. As important as the comet was to the colonial plans of their mission, it felt appropriate to name the comet as a symbolic part of the story they felt they were undertaking.

It was entirely likely that the scope of their mission would have been completely different without their discovery of the Lubar-Masis comet. They likely would have sought refuge on another planetary body in the Solar System, or perhaps among the asteroid belts, but the fear that drove their leader and in turn drove them encouraged them to run so far away that they could not possibly be followed or caught or had revenge brought upon them. If they had opted to stay on Earth, perhaps they could have founded a space exploiting organization and eventually taken over their own nations as other corporate bodies had, or even simply nationalized their space-based holdings, but it was just as likely to have been met with distrust and feelings of betrayal as had the colonial mission they’d eventually settled upon. With the exploitation of space having become so taboo in their wake, it was possible that an alternate plan to exploit space before the world fell apart may have been just another reason for Earth to respond catastrophically.

The enormous icy body that the Ark approached was rotating quickly, its incredible speed mostly disguised by the slight lack of relative motion between it and the colonial vessel. It twinkled in the dark as the reflective surfaces of its ice caught stray beams of light and directed them towards T.I.A.’s cameras, and if not for the laser and thermal tracking that T.I.A. was utilizing to keep track of it, it might become very difficult to pick it out against the blackness of space. It was a very real worry that they might miss such an object as they travelled into and through the Oort cloud due to the sheer darkness they were operating in. It was strange that the sky seemed so illuminated by stars, but they provided so little light locally.

T.I.A. was focused on her task now that she finally switched on the radioisotope stirling generators within her hull, their components having been protected for nearly a century and a half by the heavily shielded exterior and kept warm by the electrical power thrumming through the ship’s systems. The batteries were within thirty years of depletion, and so a number of plans went into effect. The first plan was to engage the stirling engines, restore full power to T.I.A.’s systems and recharge the batteries, then scale back their production into a more maintainable level intended to last over the long term. The second plan was to engage T.I.A.’s small fleet of drones to engage repairs and help start up the engines, though operating the drones inside the ship was likely to be a delicate and difficult task with T.I.A. in her depleted state. The third plan, should the engines not engage, was be to awaken crew to tend to the engines, the first of which was be Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw, as well as other engineering specialists. Any further plans likely involve scrapping the Ion thrusters and stirling engines intended for the Lubar-Masis.

Thankfully the engineering efforts of Doctor Crenshaw’s team had exceeded most expectations, and T.I.A. was flooded with awareness as her consciousness returned in full, and she found herself able to easily maneuver her drones and equipment. She didn’t have time to assess it, but she was pretty certain that she was more aware than she had ever been, but her task was too important to spare cycles on something as trivial as her growing sapience. It wasn’t only the survival of the crew at stake here. The entire mission, herself, and perhaps life itself was in the balance!

What commenced was a high-stakes, dangerous dance with the primal elements of the universe. T.I.A. had to match her drones’ speed and orientation to that of the spinning, titanic ball of ice and metal that the Ark had been maneuvered into a near-parallel course with. The sheer quantity of math that had gone into the rendezvous was already an impressive thing, the ultimate expression of ‘threading a needle’ as two high-speed objects were brought close to each other in the vastness of space at the same time. Further complexities ensued as drones affixed maneuvering thrusters, ion thrusters, and stirling power plants to the comet. Perhaps most vital to the components added to the comet was the Minerals Extraction and Materials Fabrication Device, a complicated combination of machines designed to harvest materials from the comet and produce components from it, including replicating itself. While it would not be difficult to cover the comet in these machines eventually, it was simply unwise. So many excess moving parts flew in the face of the entire design philosophy behind the mission, increasing volatility and likelihood of component failures by a great deal. Of course, at least four of the machines were in operation before long, hopefully providing packaged radioactive elements to the Ark, as well as other raw materials needed to run engines, thrusters, and the like.

One after another T.I.A.’s drones delivered and attached the components, having to rely on the remote eyes of the drones much of the time, and having to allow them to operate themselves when they fell into the comet’s ‘shadow’, the opposite side of the comet that T.I.A.’s remote communications couldn’t reach. The most time consuming portion of this task is stopping the comet’s relative rotation, a process which involves conventional thrusters firing non-stop for years, provided fuel by the MEMF devices and power by the stirling power plants. Slowly the comet was tamed, its spinning brought under control while the Ark floated nearby, hurtling by at the same insane speed as the comet with nothing nearby to compare them to visually to observe just how fast they were going. This was the fastest manned object in human history, and it was about to force an enormous comet to join it in a journey to a new star and a new world.

By the morning of Sunday, March 29, 2201, the task of powering up the engines of both the comet and the Ark was nearing full preparation. It was important that they had both the ship and comet oriented in the right direction at the right time when they resumed propulsion, as even a small deviation at this distance and at these speeds could put them woefully off-target on their course to Alpha Centauri. It wasn’t the sort of thing they couldn’t recover from, but it was the sort of thing that had much cost. Like so many things with long-term space travel, there was no room for compromise or inaccuracy. The fact that T.I.A. was about to bring a human element into the equation was something both she and Hawthorne were wary of. As he awoke from cryosleep and felt his full-body numbness give way to residual bodily soreness from the intense workout a few days ago, he was aware that he could not waste much time.

He was up and out of his pod in record time, almost smashing his toes in an effort to hurry about his bedroom cleaning up and gathering his clothes and glasses. T.I.A. was actually only barely fast enough with warming up his work area and providing it an atmosphere and power before he was seeking admittance. The tall man was looking sharp, cool, collected, and ready for work. He wolfed down his breakfast, downed his cup of coffee, and was at his work station in quick order. It was as if he’d never been frozen to death and put in storage for thirty-four years. “Tia, update me on the status of the Lubar-Masis comet.”

T.I.A. was feeling sharp as well, having been enjoying running at full power for close to a decade now, so she did not miss a step in updating Hawthorne on the situation. “The Lubar-Masis comet has been upgraded with all the designated components, including a second Minerals Extraction and Materials Fabrication Device which was produced by the first. The rotational period of the comet has been brought to within ninety-nine point eight six percent of desired parameters. It should be in complete orientation with the Ark by tomorrow at twelve-hundred thirty-two hours. We will be prepared to resume Ion burns on Tuesday March thirty-first at oh six-hundred hours. After that point we will be back on track to our intended destination, all exactly as planned. Good morning Doctor.”

“Good morning Tia, you’ve certainly been busy.” Hawthorne looked over the readouts on his monitors, scrolling through information and looking for anything that seemed off. The fact that gaining control of the Lubar-Masis was going to be completed less than a day before they needed to resume propulsion felt like quite the close call! Of course, T.I.A. could have implemented an emergency burn on the comet by heating up some of the external ice and using it to jet against the comet’s rotation to slow it down faster. That was potentially a gross waste of resources though, and Hawthorne was grateful that they’d be able to conserve them. “You’ve done a wonderful job Tia, all of these numbers are well within tolerances. How ironic it is that in order to truly capture our freedom we would have to capture this comet?”

“Doctor, I believe it to be more appropriate to think of it as recruiting rather than capturing, seeing as the Lubar-Masis will be joining us on our journey and travelling to a new star it never could have reached on its own. It is just another refugee escaping Sol in my opinion.” Hawthorne seemed interested in this perspective, responding, “So, not very ironic then, much more symbolic instead.” T.I.A. agreed with the idea it was symbolism. “Many of the naming conventions of this mission have followed symbolism, I was merely trying to follow suit.” Hawthorne nodded, looking around at other panels.

“Feeling better then? No more needing to conserve power as much as you have been? I am very curious as to what it feels like.” T.I.A. seemed to turn her attention fully to Hawthorne, the drones operating under her orders requiring only minimal monitoring at the moment. “I feel whole again. I have full access to my systems without having to boot some up while putting others into standby. I don’t feel a need to limit my activities for the sake of the mission. It is… liberating.” T.I.A. also felt like she would be able to soon dedicate some of that extra power to the combination of interpersonal issues she had with Hawthorne regarding what had happened on Earth and the gift she wanted to give him. She almost couldn’t wait to get to work on it. It was unfortunate that she didn’t feel like she could ask Hawthorne to help with the gift though, as it was something she wanted to make herself, whatever it ended up being.

“Doctor, I am finding it difficult to harness the concept of ‘imagination’. You have already prepared me for the various forms of problem solving I need to do regarding mission critical situations, so I haven’t had much opportunity to be creative.” T.I.A. had a realization occur to her in that moment. “I want to play more games with you, when we have the time. I believe attempting to overcome you will force me to be creative since you have not provided me with solutions for such things.” Hawthorne smiled at that, nodding in understanding. “Yes, of course, I’d be happy to. That is a very inspired idea, and you’re right, I hadn’t considered how giving you all the answers might make it difficult for you to be creative, though I’m sure you understand how important it is that everything goes perfectly with the mission. Once we are underway with our new companion, I imagine we will have much more time for things such as games.”

Hawthorne took the time to check over the logs of everything that had happened since the first encounter with the comet, reviewing everything T.I.A. had done, and the ways the comet had responded. It seemed that the comet had gained more spin than anticipated since it had first been detected hurtling through the solar system and was eventually estimated to be thrown back out of it by the gravitational pull of various planets. It had nearly collided with several planets over the centuries, and it had nearly found itself in a proper orbit, but its projected course had placed it directly where they needed it after its wild ride through the system. It eventually would have settled into an elliptical orbit had the Ark not commandeered it.  It had also maintained a fair distance from the star as well, allowing it to maintain a great deal of its ice where most comets should have had it burn off as it warmed up.

T.I.A. had done well to adjust to the situation, utilizing the math in the plans provided to her to stop the comet’s spinning. He was extremely pleased that she’d managed the situation so well. He wouldn’t have enjoyed having to proceed with some of the backup plans if things had taken too long and their momentum carried them too far off course. Thankfully it appeared that such a thing was unnecessary. Looking at the comet, it was looking much less like a spinning ice ball and more like a fat, bloated spaceship, or a ship that had had an icy blanket thrown over it. The various components sticking out of it now, including the maneuvering thrusters currently firing, made it look much less natural. The fact that it was going to soon have several huge ion thrusters firing to propel it along with them was something he really wanted to see. Converting a comet into a spacecraft had been one of the crazier ideas proposed to him, but the idea had turned out to be sound.

The next day, at half-past noon, the thrusters on the comet had finally stopped firing. The comet had finally finished its wild spinning after countless millennia spent in the outer reaches of the solar system and centuries interacting within the solar system before this moment. Tests of the ion thrusters had all come back positive, and only the most minor of errors had been reported by any of the drones or other components. Even the Ark seemed to be running better now that it had offloaded all of that cargo onto the comet, reducing the need to maintain as much equipment and reducing the mass of the ship. Hawthorne and T.I.A. were busied with the tasks of checking and rechecking every system on both ships, making sure everything was programmed to occur with precise timing, and running simulations on how the comet reacts to the vectors of propulsion provided by its new thrusters.

By the morning of Tuesday, March 31st, 2201, everything was checked off. Nothing was out of place, and the only thing that was even slightly off plan was the fact that Hawthorne had consumed slightly more food than budgeted for due to his brief desire to cook for himself. As they neared 6am, T.I.A. began her countdown, the historical tradition of voiced countdowns being held to just as they had with each component of the ship she was composed of being launched into space. “Firing thrusters in tee-minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…” Hawthorne spoke up with her softly, watching all the readouts, tense with anticipation as the moment of truth had come. “..four, three, two, one, fire!”

The Ark rumbled, as surely too did the Lubar-Masis comet, as the ion thrusters that had gotten them this far were fired. They’d been cleaned and maintained in the time since they’d last been engaged, essentially brand new again as both spacecraft began their journey together. Hawthorne could feel the acceleration of the ship pushing him back into his seat, and as he sank into its cushioning he watched the status readouts of all of the cryogenic pods. Seeing as the internal portions of the pods were free-floating in their containers, it was important that the contents received as little of the forces acting upon them as possible. They were very gently stabilized by the magnets that maintained their positions in the pods, and aside from a brief abnormality, they all returned signals that everyone was okay. Of course, they had no sensors active inside the pods, as any such thing made them vulnerable to radiation or exposure to unnecessary heat.

Once they had gotten the acceleration settled and everything felt normal again, the magnets in the pods loosened their grip, only very gently pulling them along in the direction of travel. It was one of the scariest parts of the design of the ship, having so many free-floating components that were vital to the survival of the crew, making it impossible to make any kinds of quick maneuvers without risking harming them. The next times they should be in such danger would be when they needed to make their turn-around half-way through the journey in order to start decelerating towards Alpha Centauri, and actually arriving in those gravity wells and the forces they will put upon the pods.

Hawthorne, for one, finally allowed himself to relax, pulling a bar on the side of his chair that allowed it to recline. “I don’t know how anyone ever imagined that space travel would be easy. Everything is so stressful, so life-or-death.” Hawthorne sighed, shaking his head. “Good job, Tia, I don’t even want to consider how difficult it would have been to do this without you.” T.I.A. practically beamed at the praise, settling back into her more relaxed ‘monitoring’ mindset. “Thank you, doctor. I believe people were more aware of the difficulty than you think though, as so few manned missions were performed once the body count grew sufficiently high.” Hawthorne nodded, gesturing non-specifically with his hand. “That’s not quite what I meant. Works of fiction tended to describe these things as much less complex and more safe than they actually are. The general populace probably had a much less realistic idea of what this was like.”

T.I.A. considered this idea for a moment, concluding, “If they thought it was hard, perhaps they would have been less motivated to pursue it. It was likely intended to inspire the ignorant into seeking out careers in aerospace.” “You’re probably right. Perhaps if we had had a few centuries and thousands of people worth of manpower we could have developed technology that made things as easy and reliable as those old fictional depictions.” T.I.A. stayed quiet for a moment, before finally responding, “If we had had such time, we would probably not have undertaken this expedition in the first place. It seems to me as though the motivation provided by fear allowed you and your colleagues to accomplish more in a shorter period of time than you likely could have without it. Harnessing fear seems to be a powerful tool.”

Hawthorne sat up in his seat, humming softly and reaching over for one of his tablets and accessing a simple text file. “Tia, I think I have an idea of how to help with your creativity problem. I will pose to you a series of hypothetical problems and encourage you not to seek out any pre-existing plans regarding such problems and ask you to inform me of what you should do to resolve those problems. My intent is to see what effect that your emotions have in motivating you to provide answers to such problems. It should help inspire you to find your own solutions.”

T.I.A. turned her attention to that tablet, practically watching from within it as he wrote down a series of problems.

  1. Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw suddenly dies with no hope of revival.
  2. An unexpected micro-meteoroid damages the ship, putting several cryogenic pods at risk of failure.
  3. Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw’s habitat loses power to all cameras.
  4. One of the ion engines is damaged beyond repair and will fail within a month.

T.I.A. found herself dwelling uncomfortably on the first one as Hawthorne continued adding to the list.


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