Chapter 7

Iase and Anzo, after they finished this phase, dragged their cranes to moorage and fixed them here. In the same time astronauts, themselves remained into their chairs and returned to the ship for its last inspection. That was the penultimate task of the cosmic mounters: skin-deep examination, which looked just like a farewell. Each of them was scheduled to cover more than three kilometers of total distance flying in their chairs there and back along with the fuel depository. Iase was to go along that one, which stretched toward the North Pole of Earth and was called “upper”, his shift-mate moved alongside “lower” one.
Sixty minutes later Iase reached the edge of the depository and instead of directly to move on the other side of the deposit, he cast an accustomed glance to space, having been boundlessly stretching into the dark. This time the nearest object shining in the blackness against the background of innumerable stars was tiny Mars. This and other similar pictures he saw many times in the past and thus his gaze at the Universe was very short.
After another hour, the same as his workmate he finished that survey and neared back to the cylinder with the interstellar ship on one of its bases. Anzo was in a similar position but on the opposite part: on upper, that is, at farthest side relatively to Earth. Yet their task wasn’t accomplished at this point. With their eyes, they were ordered to see from a safe distance how will start the thermoplasmic engine and will move whole construction.
For to fulfill this mission they moved back again to the center of his own part of depository each and then kept away from it on approximately four hundred meters for to hold entire his part of interstellar craft in the field of vision. When they took needed positions, the mission control gave the command and the engines began to work. The trip to the stars started in plain ordinariness, without any ceremonial procedure.
Several minutes earlier of that beginning, the meteorite having been pushed by comet chunk, was prepared to burn into the atmosphere of Earth, like all its comrades in the total amount of one hundred tons each year. Exactly by the time when it was going to turn into the meteor, it stuck one of the countless pieces of cosmic debris. That was the fragment of old TV satellite burnt in upper layers. Been tangentially hit and smashed almost to shape of the blade, instead to dive into the circumterrestrial air ocean, this titanium piece had been reflected from its uneven surface and headed back toward space.
In twenty minutes or so it collided with the fuel depository, namely, it hit the first upper sphere. Though this was just a very lightweight piece similar to a thin sheet of paper, still, owing to its high velocity, it managed to make damage. From the multi-layer, firm hull of this container, it chopped out the fragment the size of the span. Iase, at that time observing already budged construction, with the corner of his eye caught some sparkle at right. He turned the chair in that direction and saw nothing. Then, after he narrowly looked at that point, the mounter discerned some thin, thread-like thing blistering over there in the beams of the floodlight.
He decided immediately to report to mission control about this strangeness but right at that moment the mission control asked first:
“Condor One and Condor Two, we have some vibration detected at the fuel storage, pressure decreasing in one of its section. Did you see anything?”
“This is Condor One, yes I saw some sparkle near the first sphere of the upper first layer, at the rear side and now I see as if some very thin thread is shimmering there. I think I should go there and learn what it is.”
The rear side of depository was the one, which situated on opposite direction relative to the movement of the ship.
“Copy, Condor One, you have permission to go.”
Having heard this answer Iase directed his chair to that sphere. He cowered about a half of his way when he was told thru his headsets:
“Condor One, the engine incorrectly increased the fuel consumption, we aren’t able to control the situation. You should hurry.”
“Copy,” Iase responded and pushed the joystick on the right arm of his transport on full forward, thereby making fuel expenditure maximal.
When Iase, after about three minutes, approached the place, he hardly believed to his eye. The stream of liquid deuterium, not less than ten centimeters in radius, was gushing out from the first sphere! Iase became stunned for a while but in the next trice, the discipline of experienced space fitter prevailed over the confusion. He followed with his gaze the spurt of fuel, ideally straight in the weightlessness, and then reported:
“Base One, this is Condor One, something hit this sphere and sliced the little hole about twenty centimeters in its hull. The stream, erupting out of it is hitting directly the control compartment of the engine of interstellar rocket.”
The engine of the interstellar rocket was ten-meters radius bicycle wheel in the center of which there is the nozzle connected to the “tyre” with three spokes. The flow of quasi-neutral plasma from that nozzle was accelerating this ship according to the law of reactive motion. This law says that the final velocity of the craft depends on the speed of that stream and on the ratio of initial and final masses of the craft. That is why the expedition consisted almost from fuel in amount one and a half million tons to reach the one-fifth of the speed of light.
To walk around this law one must use the non-reactive way of movement. For example, to apply the method, with the help of which the Universe itself is inflating or the particles of the quantum world are changing their positions.
The control aggregate of that jet maker consisted of several mutually connected boxes making together with the light grey color cube with the rib four meters long.
“Condor One, the power production is gradually nearing to critical, do you hear me?” Was heard in Iase’s earphones.
So, now he was seeing that liquid heavy hydrogen is pouring at the part responsible for the feeding of the plasma reactor. The more fuel was incoming into the reactor the strongest was the magnetic field holding the plasma. But that rule was working just within some limits. After a definite threshold of the energy production there would arise the hazard of uncontrolled fusion of nucleus, that is, of the thermonuclear explosion. Now the time was to decrease deuterium feed but this part of motor obviously went out of order.
“Yes, I do,“ Iase responded. “You can see yourself, the liquid is flooding on the consumption control and it seems because of this the device got a glitch. Presumably, the temperature balance got broken.”
Concurrently with these words, Iase showed with his camera on top of his helmet what was happening in front of him.
“But−“, began John Fermini and immediately ceased to speak. There was no sense in words; Iase was seeing himself in his readouts on the display that the situation is growing danger with every second.
“Ok,” mission control resumed to talk but apparently with very big doubt in his voice. “Maybe we can wait until this section will be empty?”
The chief was meant that inner space of these spheres, that is, five thousand tons, was divided into one hundred sections with possibility been separated from rest of volume. That was made exactly for the accidents that happened so early. In general, ten percent of that gigantic amount of fuel was just reserve. After the expedition will peek up its final velocity, it will be left somewhere in the interstellar space, if not have been used.
“Under this current … that entire tank-wagon will be over… it seems about twenty liters per second… it will take not less than half an hour?” Iase suggested. “Did we have that time?”
“I’m afraid we didn’t,” Was the response from Earth.
The more Iase was thinking the clearer he saw that if they wait until all fifty tons in the damaged section will end, highly likely the energy production in the reactor exceeds the tolerable limit. That means the explosion is unavoidable.
Here he involuntary remembered the sad case of the shuttle Columbia exploded at the beginning of this century. Almost immediately that program was shut down. What will happen now, if there be a thermonuclear blast? Today would have died much more people. And what will be with the Project? Is there any assurance that it will survive such an enormous catastrophe? The personal of ISS will be exterminated and also it itself… the ship will be crushed, the cosmic moorage, communication satellites, thermoplasmic rocket and the lander which was made in expense of so enormous efforts…
To shun this disaster it was enough just to stop the stream. The fuel into the engine was passing thru three separate injectors. For their proper working they must have don’t freeze deeply: this is the common rule for the machines acting into space or on other celestial bodies. The plasma chamber produces a lot of heat and shares a few parts of it with controlling equipment for its warming. Now it was totally unexpected that exactly in the beginning of the trip when the gadgets yet didn’t gather the warm, they would get under the shower of the liquid with the temperature just sixty degrees of Kelvin. The interstellar space itself is even colder but by that time the device will accumulate enough heat, though near the Earth that wasn’t necessary.
The task looked simple at first glance but really it wasn’t so easy… far not so easy.
“Can we increase the heat flow to control device?” Iase pronounced in his helmet.
“We did that already,” Earth answered, “and reached the limit of the heat channel, it is insufficient. We need just to shut this flow down for a few seconds, warm the injectors and their control systems. Do you have any idea?”
In his chair, Iase was floating above the fountain of liquid deuterium. All that he contrived was to dispose of his chair in flow’s way. It seemed to him that was to what the mission control bent too but didn’t dare to propose him. The thrusters of his transport will stand against the extremely high pressure, but during what interval? After inspection of depository and fast flying to the damaged point, there remained only seven percent of juice in the chair. What if it is not enough? After it will over, the stream from sphere will throw him into the open space where nobody will find him into the beset darkness.
Though, stop. After his thrusters will die, this stream will hit him against the engine! Iase will manage to grab it and thus save himself from to be tossed in the space. That was almost a suitable way out! There was just one little problem. The chair is pretty massive, it will be difficult to compensate its inertia… though, during flying these about forty meters till the engine, Iase can leave the chair and don’t bother about its impetus anymore…
“I will hinder this jet with my chair,” He reported to Earth.
“But it’s very dangerous, you’re almost empty,” the instant response came back, showing that this variant indeed has been already examined down there.
“How many time until the explosion?” Iase asked as if didn’t hear previous information.
“With present tempo… theoretically some fifteen seconds, but in reality, no one knows if it happens at all,” This respond also came immediately.
This time Iase answered also in a trice: “If my juice will be not enough, I will get rid the chair and catch the control box.”
“Wait, it’s still dangerous−“began John Fermini but Iase interrupted him:
“I’m on my way.”
“Condor Two, go to the first upper sphere,” The next order came from Earth.
“Copy,” Iase heard the uneasy voice of his workmate and after that full silence reined in the ether.
Since he already weighed what could be done, Iase turned on the thrust of his chair and headed to deuterium stream which was so abundantly run out from the container. He planned to peek up the impulse and then stand on the way of the spurt.
It was the question which force will be stronger: the one of his engine or that of jet bursting with high pressure. Iase got set out and moving with chair’s back forward, entered the stream.
He felt first blow and then that his transport is rejecting by the flow of the deuterium, the substance usually almost absent in the space and especially in the interstellar vacuum. He immediately increased the tractive force to counterbalance that jet. It didn’t help and Iase, seeing that, turned the joystick of power regulation to its edge position. Rejecting slowly stopped but when Iase cast his glance at the readout, he saw with anxiety that the fuel is going so fast like water from the bucket turned upside down.
Then he shifted his gaze to the watch on the screen. The first second elapsed, next, third, fourth, fifth…tenth, fifteen…
“How it is?” Iase sharply asked ether.
“Still increasing,” the strained voice answered. “Your fuel is practically over, get out of there!”
“Now what?” Iase didn’t pay attention to that warning.
“Wait a minute … yes! It seems the temperature has stabilized… now it is going up… maybe you will go at last? Condor One, leave the stream, this is order, we stopped the fuel feed!”
Iase, with relief, started to leave the cold stream, though, as it became clear in a moment, he hadn’t time for this maneuver. Suddenly his thrusters became silent and immediately the flow of liquid fuel pushed him. The chair with the mounter in it began its acceleration. It was nearing the interstellar motor, peeking up the speed quite fast. Iase hastily unfastened himself and finished with that, half erected pressed his chair with his legs to get rid of it and its inertia. That strike predictably accelerated him but Iase foresaw that and was ready to resist it.
Anyway, the acceleration appeared unexpectedly high. Nevertheless, he stretched out his left hand to grab the edge of the rib of the control compartment. Iase managed to do that indeed and stopped himself. He was already catching his breath when suddenly felt that something heavy hit him from behind. In the next instance, he saw his chair reflected from him and flew by. The collision itself wasn’t a problem but the result of it looked very menacing: the rib of the module slipped out from his hand.
First Iase wondered: how it could be? Didn’t he push his transport backward when getting rid of it? But in the next trice, after he felt the stream on the back of his left shoulder, he grasped what happened: the chair had been pushed back gathered the impetus again because exactly of that fountain and caught already motionless cosmonaut.
Though, at that moment this was far not the main. The catastrophe lied in the fact that he was flying toward open space without any mean of to control of his own movement.
“Condor Two, Condor One lost contact!” Iase immediately heard the voice of the chief of the mission control.
Iase wanted hurriedly to look at his pad and learn how many fuel remained in Anzo’s chair but quickly recalled that he isn’t able to do that. His pad, mounted on his chair, was heading from him. This discovery didn’t change anything essentially because Iase knew that his mate was also almost empty after this prolonged shift.
Still, Anzo entered the conversation: “Condor One, where are you? I see your chair.”
“I’m flying in opposite direction, toward Earth,” Iase responded with yet hide emotion.
“OK. I see your flashlight,” Anzo said as he approached the upper side of interstellar construction which ceased even its unnoticeable acceleration.
The silence was the answer to him.
“Condor one! Iase!”
“I hear you Anzo,” the answer came. “You can’t help me; you haven’t enough fuel for that,” Iase answered with a muffled voice.
“I will return to the moorage and recharge my chair,” Anzo answered immediately.
He meant that fuel for the transports of mounters, because of security demand, was stored in the container attached to one of the four sides of rectangle shaped moorage. There was one reserve chair too, but it was empty too. There is no sense to hold the motionless transport filled with rocket fuel during the indefinite time.
“Entire operation for recharging of your transport will take at least half an hour… it seems, it is too long,” Iase answered after a short silence.
“Condor One, what is the distance to the nearest object?” the mission control was still holding himself and was talking according to rules. “Approximately what is the velocity of your movement? In what direction you’re moving?”
After a short pause, Iase started his report: “At that moment the nearest is… maybe the third sphere of the second lower layer, the speed… the initial acceleration I felt being already out of the chair was similar to the fast start in ordinary car… so I don’t know, I’m moving quite fast… maybe fifteen meters per second… maybe twenty…about direction, I’m rotating and… moving toward the surface.”
“I’m on my way to moorage,” Anzo exclaimed.
After these words, all that remained to Iase, to Anzo, to staff into the ISS and to the mission control was the waiting. Beside it, there was main expectancy: the hope that Iase’s velocity is pretty low and during this interval, he will not fly far.
At last Iase noticed the smallest dot of light, having emerged from beneath of the cylinder, like a very distant and weak star. It was disappointingly far.
“The azimuth relatively to you is about zero,” he informed his mate without hope in his voice. “Simply to say I’m right between the surface and lower wing, moving diagonally relatively to it.”
His desperation was caused by calculation he made in the last minute. To cover that distance, he estimated it as insuperable one hundred kilometers, Anzo still has no velocity and no fuel… Even if mate’s speed little bit exceeds his own and Anzo is able to catch him when it happens? Iase understood that recharging was a practically symbolic act. Or, rather, initially, nobody knew Iase’s speed and hope was remaining alive, but now it is clear: there is no way to return him into the ISS.
“Mission control, Condor Two can’t catch me, this operation is senseless now, let him stop it,” Iase said with lifeless voice. Together with these words he, at last, felt all the emotions he had no opportunity to reveal.
First of all, he felt the fear of the death, the sorrow about that he can’t prolong his life, will not enjoy it, will not experience the lifelong love with Veana, will not see how joyful will be Meliton and Taso seeing their grandchildren… he deathly wished not to cease his living, to see what will be next, how it will go with his friends and just humanity on Earth, but above all was his grief because he and Veana separated without having their child…
Iase didn’t understand what he should do in this circumstance? He was sentenced for inevitable death and there was no way out! Non any modern powerful, smart device could help him because in spite of their great abilities everything is limited with laws of Nature.
Then what he should do? To cry? To shout in desperation? To beg for help? Nothing of this helps him but will abase himself and together with him his beloveds too. No, all that remained to him is to say goodbye to his family with dignity.
“Condor One, Iase,” At last, John Fermini, breached the official protocol of cosmic communication.” What you say, he will try…”
“Geil, we all know that he couldn’t catch me, this is the reality and let’s don’t talk about that anymore. I just want to say farewell to my family, can you arrange a private conference to Georgia and to Norway simultaneously?”
“Of course, Iase… and… you know,” it was obvious that for the chief was more and more difficult to pronounce each next word. “Now we have calculated already and learned with full confidence that the H-bomb would have exploded during next one and a half of seconds… Iase, it seems maybe you saved the entire Project and thus who knows, the dream of humankind at all…”
Iase interrupted him: “You know, Geil, just at very this moment, essentially going to shake hand with the death,” here bitter grin was heard in the ether, “I understood that in the last moments of my life I don’t want to see my dear people with the sorrowful expressions. Let them remain in my mind with glad faces. Just tell them that I was dreaming about them till the very end. Please, discard that conference.”
“What we can do for you? You deserved any reward from all progressive part of humanity.”
“I didn’t do that because of reward, you know, so… I can tell nothing on that subject.”
“Iase,” director of the mission control said solemnly. “You know, if this Project reaches its goal, all humanity forever will remember your name as the person who saved its dream about the stars.”
In response to these words, there was a quite long silence. Both on the ISS and on Earth they were already thought that the connection is ceased when Iase started to speak again. With very altered voice:
“You mentioned the dream about the stars, didn’t you Geil?”
The chief of control answered with light confusion:
“Yes, what?”
“I had… I think maybe I’m not so unselfish… all my life I wanted to go to the stars though I knew that it’s impossible… I don’t know is it mercantile or not, but I want you to ask the people… if it is possible that my dream come true… I mean, to send my genotype to the stars… but not like other ones, without their names. I know, I’m not satisfying the rule of selection at one point, I have no children, but instead new lives I gave my one… did it worth my life at this point?”
After a short pause the chief answered firmly:
“We will ask them for sure.”
At that moment Iase felt the first collision with Earth atmosphere and was reflected from it. After several more rebounds, he plunged into the air-ocean and a few moments later his EVA became red-hot. He turned into the falling star. Maybe someone saw this flying fire in the sky and had time to conceive the whish. Then this star went out and been turned into the ash and picked up with wind, was slowly dispersed on the surface of his native planet.