Throwing Stones Part 2

Violent shaking roused him. He attempted to rub the sleep from his eyes, but his hand met the closed helmet visor. He cleared his head quickly and evaluated the situation. The control panel was lit up like a Christmas tree and the red warning light blinked madly. The silent klaxon told him what had happened.

“Computer! Report!”

He panicked at the lack of a response until he remembered turning off his comm before he dropped off. It was one of those ‘minor’ infractions that might cost him his pilot license for a few months, but he had enough confidence in the AI to raise the volume on the cabin speakers to wake him.

He turned on the helmet radio. “Computer! Report!” He failed to keep the panic out of his voice.

“The hull is breached. All atmosphere is vented into space. I shut down the pumps to retain your air. Tanks are at ten percent of capacity and holding pressure. I do not believe they are damaged.”

“What the hell happened? Debris hit? Micro-meteor?”

“Sensors recorded a small mass on high velocity approach before they went offline. I am running diagnostics. There is more extensive structural damage than can be accounted for from a meteor collision.”

“What sort of damage?” Ben sat forward and activated his helmet’s HUD.

“Full diagnostic is pending; major hull breach in forward section; communications array is lost; forward sensors and thrusters are offline...”

“It’s all in the front. What did we run into?”

“Unknown.”

Ben looked at the window of the cockpit. The clear graphene-plastic compound was cracked in several places and there were at least two holes where most of the atmosphere had been lost. The asteroid loomed before them.

“How close are we to that?”

“Forward sensors inoperative. At the time of the incident we were thirty minutes from contact.”

He watched as the two kilometres of space rock grew. If their trajectory was not altered by whatever had hit them, they were headed right at it.

“Do our maneuvering jets work?”

“Affirmative, there is lateral and forward maneuverability.”

“Is our rear sensor array still online?” He crossed his fingers.

“Yes.”

Excellent! “Can you still pilot or do we need to go manual?” While He considered himself an exceptional pilot, some maneuvers were best left to the AI.

“I retain control over all remaining systems.”

Fantastic! “Activate maneuvering jets to flip us around and use the aft facing sensors and rockets to slow us and set us down on the asteroid. Oh, and increase sensor sensitivity to maximum. We can’t afford another hit.” Ben hoped the damage was minimal enough that he could execute a patchwork repair and get them out into the space lanes for some help. First things were first, though; he had to stop them from colliding with the rock and any of its associated flotsam.

The AI executed the maneuver while sensors relayed new data to the computer system. Within seconds, warning lights flashed, and the AI announced, “Pending collision.”

“Thanks, I know.”

“I did not mean that. There appear to be several small bodies orbiting the asteroid. Their movement suggests they are self-powered. One has changed course and is approaching us.”

“What? Impossible.” He said this as he realized it was possible. He needed more information to confirm his suspicions. “What size are they?”

“Each body is spherical; fourteen kilograms in mass and approximately twenty centimetres in diameter.”

“Smart mines! Why the hell are those around this thing?” Ben recalled his youth in the Terran space forces during the Lunar revolt. He lost a lot of friends in those days when they boarded supposedly derelict ships, booby trapped with these things. He unstrapped himself and pushed his weightless body towards the rear door of the cabin. “Time until impact with the smart mine?”

“Three minutes...mark.”

Ben entered the storage compartment. He found the item he was looking for and removed it from the restraining harness.

“Computer, open the cargo access door.” He pushed the trucking engine towards rear hatch. Secured by a tether at the opened door, he watched in awe the asteroid now completely filling his field of vision.

“Computer, remote access trucking motor number 265B.”

“Telemetry established,” Gina’s calm voice announced.

He pushed it out of the door and away from the ship with all his strength, trying to keep it from spinning more than necessary.

“Time to collision with the mine?”

“One minute, twenty-three seconds.”

Ben prayed the mine didn’t have a proximity fuse.

“In twenty-seconds, fire the trucking rocket at full burn.” He hoped he’d done the math right and cursed himself for not getting the AI to do the calculation for him. Old military habits were difficult to change, even thirty years later.

“Duration of burn?”

“I don’t give a shit! Just get it away from us!” He announced as he closed the door and made his way back to the cockpit.

Returning to his seat, he saw a flash of light outside as the trucking motor ignited. He strapped himself in and waited as it moved out of the sensor field.

“Your gambit worked, Ben. The mine altered course. Without sensors, I can only project the mine’s impact with the motor to be in twenty-two-seconds.”

Ben counted off the seconds silently, hoping his stunt worked. On the count of twenty-five a bright flash lit up the space somewhere to the rear of them, and he caught himself holding his breath. He exhaled loudly and relaxed for a moment before he remembered something.

“Computer, are any more mines approaching us?”

“Negative. They appear to respond to maneuvering rockets or other energy output, as you demonstrated. We are under null engine thrust, but we require a braking burst in another nine minutes if we intend a soft landing on the asteroid.”

“They usually only react to threats outside of a threshold distance, otherwise they would destroy each other. Wait until we’re inside their orbit before we fire the retro burn.”

“Please apply your restraints. I will begin the maneuver in eight minutes and fifty-three seconds.”

D.M.(Doug) Pruden worked for 35 years in the petroleum industry as a geophysicist. For most of his life he has been plagued with stories banging around inside his head that demanded to be let out into the world. He currently spends his time as an empty nester in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his long suffering wife of many years. When he isn’t writing science fiction stories, he likes to spend his time playing with his grandchildren and working on improving his golf handicap.

D.M. Pruden

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Throwing Stones A short sci-fi story

Throwing Stones – A short sci-fi story…

Her voice lingered. The warning tone; the unanswered call for help; the sadness. Its timbre was a fading tendril.

He hated being awakened abruptly.

“Computer, repeat!” he said, now fully awake, or at least as much as possible. After surviving on ten-minute naps for the past three days, Ben wondered how effective he was anyway. He was glad he didn’t operate his survey ship anywhere near the space lanes, or he would be a danger to everyone out here.

“I said, ‘Proximity alert,’ sleepy head.”

Sometimes he regretted programming Gina’s personality into the ship’s AI. At times like this, when he was still waking from one of the dreams of her, hearing her voice being imitated was too painful. And yet, most of the time it helped him; made him feel better when he didn’t feel guilty. Then her voice became a torment.

For about the fiftieth time he made a mental note to buy a new simulator module for the ship. Then he could switch to a secondary personality. But eventually he would forget and have the same intention again. AI modules were expensive, and he couldn’t afford a frivolous luxury like a second persona. He would learn to live with the feelings this one resurrected.

“Identify,” he said.

“Feeling a bit testy today?” A hint of hurt was in its tone. The program was too damned accurate.

Before he replied, the AI said, “I detect a major body two thousand kilometres away on a relative bearing of 035 by 076.”

He brought the HUD in his nav-glasses online and looked out the cockpit window.

“I don’t see anything.”

“I’m not surprised. Its albedo is 0.04, and I estimate its diameter at two kilometres. Her mass is 227 trillion tonnes...”

“What? Why didn’t we didn’t see an alert sooner? Is this thing in the database?”

“I explained about the albedo, and no, it’s not on any previously plotted orbit. This appears to be a transient Trojan.”

Ben’s heart skipped a beat and his throat turned dry. Chasing the last one that crossed his path had ended in disaster. The smaller, more conservative voice in his head advised caution. The louder, more reckless one reminded him of the state of his bank account.

He swallowed hard. “With so much mass it might contain a lot of metal. Is it inside our claim?”

“At the moment, but its velocity is...”

“I don’t need the numbers. How long until it crosses the boundary?”

“Less than ten hours. I can give you an exact time estimate if you like.”

“No, thanks. Compute an intercept course and initiate burn.” He decided to be excited.

“How eager are you to catch it?”

“I want to reach the damned thing as soon as possible.”

“I calculate four hours are required to correct its orbit to remain within our boundary. Allowing for the time needed to set up our remaining trucking engines, I estimate with...”

“I understand.” Ben reached for his helmet, “What kind of gees are we talking about?”

“Based on your last physical we can do a three-minute burn at 50 G. We can reach the asteroid in two hours twenty-four minutes, leaving a one hour and thirty-six-minute contingency.”

“50 G’s? I used to be able to do 70.”

“You used to be younger and fitter. And for the record, the maximum you’ve done in the past ten years is 68 G for one minute.”

“Humph.”

“Sorry, did you say something?”

“I said start the burn. Let’s go make some money.”

As the AI initiated the interception maneuver, Ben braced himself for the crush of G-force. He didn’t want to admit he was grateful for a reduced acceleration. At fifty-eight years old, he had spent far too many of the last twenty of them in zero-g conditions and his physical condition showed it.

Gina and he had the sense to limit their time in the belt. A few weeks in space followed by a couple of months on Terra maximized their time with Natalie and gave her some semblance of a normal family life. At least, as much as was possible for her from parents who owned an asteroid mining stake. If his wife had lived, the three of them would probably be working the claim together now.

“Gina, how much is that rock worth?” Shit, did I just call it Gina, again?

“The composition of Trojans varies. If assumed to be a typical M-class body, the nickel-iron content alone should net a significant profit at today’s price.”

Ben was grateful the AI no longer corrected him when he carelessly used Gina’s name. He didn’t think the computer was capable of embarrassment, but he was.

“However, I am not certain that is an outcome you should count on. The small albedo suggests a carbonaceous chondrite, possibly even basalt,” the Gina AI continued.

“Thanks for bursting my bubble. So, what is your estimated range for our take?”

“I estimate the net return on investment between one hundred thousand to two billion credits, with a most likely value of two point eight million credits.”

“Wonderful. Best case scenario, I retire rich beyond my dreams; worst, we cover the cost of the fuel expended to catch the damned thing.”

“You are correct, though I believe you underestimate our fuel expenses.”

“Thanks for cheering me up,” grumbled Ben.

“You are welcome.” The AI didn’t always recognize sarcasm.

Even though the computer had tried to temper his expectations, the prospect of retirement after this find excited him in a way he had not been in years. Even a couple of million would let him retire from the asteroid mining business. The two billion would purchase a Martian citizenship, an estate and anything else he might imagine, and would provide for Natalie for the rest of her life; maybe get her to talk to him again; give him the chance he needed to repair their estranged relationship. Perhaps money could buy happiness.

The press of G force vanished as the engine burn ended.

“I want to catch some shut-eye. Steady as she goes, and so forth. Wake me when we are on approach, or if anything interesting happens.”

“Gladly, Ben. Pleasant dreams.”

He hoped that was possible. Perhaps Gina would visit him again. Maybe Natalie would join them.

D.M.(Doug) Pruden worked for 35 years in the petroleum industry as a geophysicist. For most of his life he has been plagued with stories banging around inside his head that demanded to be let out into the world. He currently spends his time as an empty nester in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his long suffering wife of many years. When he isn’t writing science fiction stories, he likes to spend his time playing with his grandchildren and working on improving his golf handicap.

D.M. Pruden

Get a free copy of the science fiction novella, Requiem, only available here.

Subscribe to D.M.Pruden's Newsletter and receive special offers, new release details, and a Welcome Gift copy of Requiem delivered  to your email inbox. 

You can unsubscribe at any time, and your email address will never be shared with anyone, because that is just wrong.

Don’t Panic…wise words at any time.

Times are tough

It seems with the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus that the world has gone a little bit, well, panicky.


Suddenly washing hands with soapy water is in vogue (is personal hygiene a new thing for some people?) and it is even becoming socially acceptable to stay home from work if you are not feeling well (instead of the bizarre practise of passing your 'happiness' on to your school mates, co-workers or fellow travellers in the flying petri dishes that we call airplanes. Trust me, this kind of sharing has not ever been particularly caring).

“Don't Panic.”

Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The (not so great) challenge of staying at home...

There are a lot of very intelligent people  offer advise on how to hunker down and weather the storm (not the politicians or the talking heads on TV...ignore them).  We should listen to the experts on this kind of stuff.

I'm not a health official, so anything I say should fall in the same category as the above mentioned politicians, but,

I have a plan:

During this uncertain time, I intend to limit the amount of time I spend in public places like malls and shopping centres (basically, any place that there is a reasonable chance a total stranger will sneeze on me, or cough out a lung while I sit next to their booth in a restaurant). I will wash my hands regularly and keep them away from my face. I'm also going to stay home if I feel unwell.

When I think about it, this is the same kind of stuff I do every flu season. 

Of course, in this day and age, being confined at home is not really such a great hardship. Many of us do so with an antisocial regularity, anyway.

  • I can socialize on facebook,  instagram, or Twitter; 
  • bust some dance moves on Tik Tok (I've never done it, but I understand that it's a 'thing');
  • shop from home on the ubiquitous Amazon;
  • binge watch any possible television series or movie ever produced, and;
  • read the sum total of all of human writings on my iPad. 

Naturally, being an author, I will have no excuse for not exceeding my daily word count (except for the above noted distractions).

Heck, I don't even have to leave my home for years... 

Okay, maybe that was a little much. My point is, remaining at home when unwell is not nearly the hardship it once might have been, even a decade ago, and in my particular case, can add to my productivity.

Whatever your particular situation, not panicking is probably a good first step.

 

If you are ill, please seek out medical advice and take care of yourself. Be considerate of others by not playing the heroic employee of the year. Stay home... trust me, they will survive a few days without you and appreciate that you didn't give anything to the rest of the staff. Maintain good hygiene and if you have to sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue or your elbow. Others will thank you.

Here's something you can do even if you are not ill and confined to your home...

If you are reading this, chances are that you are not only a science fiction fan, but you also might enjoy my books. I've just released my latest Space Opera, called Armstrong Station. You can check it out at Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, Apple Books or Barnes & Noble.

About the author

D.M. (Doug) Pruden

Science Fiction Author


I am the author of several science fiction series and short stories. I like to make sure that my characters are real, their adventures are riveting and,  being an erstwhile professional scientist, I like to make sure the science is right. You can check out my home page here, where you can download a free novella and get to know me a little better.

 

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