Survival Test, Snippet Eight

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.

SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER THREE (Part two)

“Well, John?” Schneider asked the next afternoon. “What have you got?”
Schneider faced Millhouse in Millhouse’s small cabin/office. The narrow cot was lashed up to the wall to make room for two folding chairs. A computer keyboard cantilevered out of the wall below a recessed screen. The keyboard could fold up and would fit over the recess. Next to the computer terminal a slot set flush into the wall and would discharge hardcopy printouts when necessary–rarely.
“We could almost do it,” Millhouse said, “if we could get everyone together. The Germans were doing botanical research. The Japanese have a chemical and electronics industry. Lunaville has raw materials.”
“Then we’ve got it,” Schneider slapped Millhouse on the shoulder.
Millhouse shook his head. “I said ‘almost’.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Problems,” Millhouse said. “Three. He held up one finger. “First, we need time. The research plots of the German plants aren’t even close to large enough to supply what we’d need. It would take time to breed up a large enough stock. I’d guess a year at least. If we could recall the Troy mission, they would buy us that year. Their algae tanks would provide a natural recycling system. The algae could provide our food source, either directly or as raw material for synthesis. I don’t know. That’s not my field.”
“The Troy mission’s beyond our reach for the moment,” Schneider said. “So there’s no point in worrying about it right now. What are the other problems?”
Millhouse held up two fingers. “Second, we need biomass. The rule of thumb is ten to one. Each kilo of animal life, humans in our case, requires ten kilos of plant life. And each kilo of plant life requires several kilos of fertilizer in the form of nitrates, sulfates, water, all sorts of things. Add in that any system we cobble together will be small and won’t have either the feedback loops or the inertia of natural systems. It will be unstable. We would run the constant risk of a collapse somewhere. Again, the answer seems to be the Troy mission. Those asteroids they’re after could provide the biomass we need. For the rest, we’ll have to be careful, and lucky.”
Schneider nodded. “What else?”
Three fingers. “Third and finally, Lunaville, Troy, and the Japanese and German stations all contribute. I have a feeling they’re going to want to know what we’ll be contributing before they let us use their resources.”
“That’s the easiest one of all,” Schneider said. “What do we have that none of the others have?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“We have two ships, right outside, designed for the Earth-Moon run. We have three shuttles down at various GEO stations that can be converted. A. C. Clarke has a stockpile of liquid hydrogen for fuel, less oxygen, but we can get more from Lunaville. Spaceways I has an excellent astronomical laboratory, well equipped for spectroscopic analysis. They can go prospecting for lunar or asteroid materials without ever leaving orbit. Both of the stations have plenty of industrial capacity. We won’t be beggars.”
“It’s a moot point anyway,” Millhouse said. “The hang-up is the Troy mission. We can’t reach them and they can’t get back to us.”
“Let’s look at that for a moment.” Schneider leaned back in his chair. “Is there anything we can build, or convert, that can reach the Trojan point and get back within our time limits?”
“Oh, sure,” Millhouse said. “We could strip down the ship for the resupply mission, nothing more than a fuel tank, ion engine, and solar panels. It could boost with a high enough acceleration to catch them. It might even carry as much as, oh, a ton of payload. I don’t know offhand; I’d have to run it on the computer. Even so, it couldn’t carry enough to be of any help to us.
“Chemical rockets?” Millhouse continued. “Let’s not joke. Nuclear? Maybe a nuclear rocket could do it, but where do we get the reactor, or even fissionables to build one? Fusion? That would be the perfect answer, but demonstrated ignition does not a power plant make. And if it did, we have neither deuterium nor tritium for fuel. And if we had power plant and fuel, we would still have to adapt it for use as a rocket. And if wishes were Newtons we’d be there already.”
“Okay,” Schneider said, “What about the Moon? Can we get what we need there?”
“All but three things,” Millhouse said. “Hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Oh, we can cook some hydrogen out of the soil thanks to the solar wind, but there’s only the faintest trace of carbon and no one’s ever found any nitrogen.”
“Still.” Schneider rubbed the lower half of his face. “The surface of the moon is larger than all of Africa. There must be some somewhere.”
“Maybe, but–as you said–the moon is big and we are few. How do we find it?”
Schneider shrugged. “I don’t know.”
They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, Schneider said, “Are A. C. Clarke and Spaceways I still taking our orders?”
“For the time being.”
“Whatever they were manufacturing before, cancel it. They will now manufacture gepirs.”
“Do we have a license to produce them?”
“No,” Schneider said. “But considering our current situation, infringing on patents is not exactly my greatest worry.”
Millhouse snorted. “I can see that. Is there some reason why you want an army of gepirs?”
“Of a sort. Well, really, more of a hunch. The General Purpose Industrial Robot is the most versatile and reliable industrial robot made. That’s why I bought them. There’s a solution out there, somewhere; I can feel it. Whatever it is, it will probably, almost certainly, require a much larger industrial base than we have now. I want to expand that base. That’s something we can do now, in advance of whatever we come up with.”
Millhouse nodded. “I’ll get on it right away.”
“One last thing, John.”
“Yes?”
“You were the genius behind our ships before. The Troy mission is the key. Keep working on how we might get to it.”
Millhouse nodded almost absently. His eyes had a faraway look. “Our ships before?”
“You have something?” Schneider asked.
“Maybe,” Millhouse said. “Just a glimmer right now, but…maybe.”

#

While Jared Arthurs allowed nobody into the C.A.M.P.E.R. who had not taken the emergency course in spacesuit wear, only Wade and Crystal, and Jared himself of course, had further qualified to do EVA work. Jared assigned the two of them the task of installing the new antenna.
“I see the mount,” Wade called back over the radio. “What a mess. Looks like we’ve got metal termites.”
“Is the mounting base still intact?” Jared asked.
“Looks to be. Crystal, see if you can get around to the other side.”
“On my way,” Crystal said.
A few minutes later, she said, “It looks good from this side too. The antenna itself seems to have taken the brunt of the damage.”
“All right, Mr. Arthurs. We’re ready. What do we do first?”
Jared stared at the diagram on the computer screen in front of him. Even a simple space habitat, such as C.A.M.P.E.R., was far too complex for any one man to know every detail of its construction. Thus, he had had complete blueprints and repair information stored in the computer against any contingencies that might happen. “There are six bolts, two per strut, connecting the antenna to the arms from the steering motors. Do you see them?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Remove them. Remember to hang onto the old antenna. We may need the metal.”
A short silence, then, “They’re removed, sir.”
Jared nodded to himself at Wade’s reply. He had taken less time than the computer said should be required. He worked well in a space suit. “All right,” Jared said. “Now, see the waveguide tube?”
“I’m not sure,” Wade said.
“I think I have it, sir,” Crystal said.
“It’s a steel tube made of overlapping spiral coils.”
“Got it,” Wade said.
“Oh,” Crystal said. “I thought it was this broken line over here. I see it now.”
“The tube flexes, so drag it out to where you can work on it.”
“Okay, got it,” Wade said.
“Good. Now about halfway along its length you should find a coupling, like a pipe fitting.”
“I see it.”
“Use your clamp to fasten down the side facing the station.”
“Clamped,” Wade said after a moment. “Crystal, you check it please?”
“Looks good to me.”
“All right,” Jared said. “Now twist the other end to the right.”
“Wups,” Wade said.
“What’s wrong?” Jared pulled himself closer to the radio.
“It’s all right,” Crystal said. “Wade’s just being clumsy.”
“I forgot to make sure I braced myself,” Wade said. “I twisted myself instead of the fitting. A moment later he said, “Okay. I’ve got it now.”
With a sigh, Jared talked them through the placement of the new antenna. A few minutes later, they were floating inside the station with him, helmets tucked under their arms.
“Do we have communications?” Crystal asked.
“We’ll find out in a moment,” Jared said. His fingers flew over the keyboard. A few seconds later a name and coordinates appeared on the screen.
“A. C. Clarke,” Jared said. “Well, let’s see if they’re listening.”
“But aren’t we going to call Earth?” Wade asked.
“No point,” Jared said. “Even if we talk to them, I don’t think we’ll get everyone with missile defenses to allow NASA to send up a shuttle for us. Nor do I think we’ll even convince the U. S. Government to lower their defenses long enough to let us make a reentry in the emergency capsule.”
“Then what’s the point?” Crystal looked like she regretted blurting out the statement even as she said it.
“The other stations are in much the same fix we are,” Jared said. “They may have some idea what to do.” He shrugged. “It’s better than sitting here doing nothing.”
He typed a command into the keyboard and saw the computer confirm that the antenna had been realigned to face in a new direction. A tracking program would keep it aimed despite the motions of both C.A.M.P.E.R. and A. C. Clarke.
“Aim will be somewhat crude,” Jared said, “since the program hasn’t been calibrated for any inaccuracies in your installation.”
“What do you mean inaccuracies?” Wade sounded outraged.
“We did good work!” Crystal’s voice held the same emotion.
“I know you did,” Jared said, “but we’re talking about fractions of a degree here. You didn’t have the tools to check alignment and there’s only so much the human eye can do. I think we’ll get through, but the signal may be a little weak.”
Wade looked mollified but Crystal did not seem at all appeased.
A moment later, Jared tried the radio. “A. C. Clarke, this is C.A.M.P.E.R. Do you read me? Come in please, over.”
Static burst from the radio speakers, then, “Omigod! I’ve got somebody! Hello? Say again. Who is calling?”
“This is C.A.M.P.E.R., A. C. Clarke. Over.”
“Roger, C.A.M.P.E.R. I can’t tell you how glad we are to hear your voice. We thought all the LEO stations…I mean, we didn’t think anybody had survived.”
“We almost didn’t,” Jared said. “And we still might not.” He summarized their situation. “So that’s where we stand,” he concluded. “We were hoping you might have some suggestions.”
“C.A.M.P.E.R.,” the voice from A. C. Clarke said, “I’m going to have to get Mr. Terrence. He’s been talking with Mr. Schneider. I think Mr. Schneider is putting together some sort of survival plan, but I don’t know anything about it. Can you hold on?”
“I can wait,” Jared could not suppress an ironic grin. Wait was all he could do.
 “Well, John?” Schneider asked the next afternoon. “What have you got?” Schneider faced Millhouse in Millhouse’s small cabin/office. The narrow cot was lashed up to the wall to make room for two folding chairs. A computer keyboard cantilevered out of the wall below a recessed screen. The keyboard could fold up and would fit over the recess. Next to the computer terminal a slot set flush into the wall and would discharge hardcopy printouts when necessary–rarely. “We could almost do it,” Millhouse said, “if we could get everyone together. The Germans were doing botanical research. The Japanese have a chemical and electronics industry. Lunaville has raw materials.” “Then we’ve got it,” Schneider slapped Millhouse on the shoulder. Millhouse shook his head. “I said ‘almost’.” “What’s the problem?” “Problems,” Millhouse said. “Three. He held up one finger. “First, we need time. The research plots of the German plants aren’t even close to large enough to supply what we’d need. It would take time to breed up a large enough stock. I’d guess a year at least. If we could recall the Troy mission, they would buy us that year. Their algae tanks would provide a natural recycling system. The algae could provide our food source, either directly or as raw material for synthesis. I don’t know. That’s not my field.” “The Troy mission’s beyond our reach for the moment,” Schneider said. “So there’s no point in worrying about it right now. What are the other problems?” Millhouse held up two fingers. “Second, we need biomass. The rule of thumb is ten to one. Each kilo of animal life, humans in our case, requires ten kilos of plant life. And each kilo of plant life requires several kilos of fertilizer in the form of nitrates, sulfates, water, all sorts of things. Add in that any system we cobble together will be small and won’t have either the feedback loops or the inertia of natural systems. It will be unstable. We would run the constant risk of a collapse somewhere. Again, the answer seems to be the Troy mission. Those asteroids they’re after could provide the biomass we need. For the rest, we’ll have to be careful, and lucky.” Schneider nodded. “What else?” Three fingers. “Third and finally, Lunaville, Troy, and the Japanese and German stations all contribute. I have a feeling they’re going to want to know what we’ll be contributing before they let us use their resources.” “That’s the easiest one of all,” Schneider said. “What do we have that none of the others have?” “I don’t know. What?” “We have two ships, right outside, designed for the Earth-Moon run. We have three shuttles down at various GEO stations that can be converted. A. C. Clarke has a stockpile of liquid hydrogen for fuel, less oxygen, but we can get more from Lunaville. Spaceways I has an excellent astronomical laboratory, well equipped for spectroscopic analysis. They can go prospecting for lunar or asteroid materials without ever leaving orbit. Both of the stations have plenty of industrial capacity. We won’t be beggars.” “It’s a moot point anyway,” Millhouse said. “The hang-up is the Troy mission. We can’t reach them and they can’t get back to us.” “Let’s look at that for a moment.” Schneider leaned back in his chair. “Is there anything we can build, or convert, that can reach the Trojan point and get back within our time limits?” “Oh, sure,” Millhouse said. “We could strip down the ship for the resupply mission, nothing more than a fuel tank, ion engine, and solar panels. It could boost with a high enough acceleration to catch them. It might even carry as much as, oh, a ton of payload. I don’t know offhand; I’d have to run it on the computer. Even so, it couldn’t carry enough to be of any help to us. “Chemical rockets?” Millhouse continued. “Let’s not joke. Nuclear? Maybe a nuclear rocket could do it, but where do we get the reactor, or even fissionables to build one? Fusion? That would be the perfect answer, but demonstrated ignition does not a power plant make. And if it did, we have neither deuterium nor tritium for fuel. And if we had power plant and fuel, we would still have to adapt it for use as a rocket. And if wishes were Newtons we’d be there already.” “Okay,” Schneider said, “What about the Moon? Can we get what we need there?” “All but three things,” Millhouse said. “Hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Oh, we can cook some hydrogen out of the soil thanks to the solar wind, but there’s only the faintest trace of carbon and no one’s ever found any nitrogen.” “Still.” Schneider rubbed the lower half of his face. “The surface of the moon is larger than all of Africa. There must be some somewhere.” “Maybe, but–as you said–the moon is big and we are few. How do we find it?” Schneider shrugged. “I don’t know.” They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, Schneider said, “Are A. C. Clarke and Spaceways I still taking our orders?” “For the time being.” “Whatever they were manufacturing before, cancel it. They will now manufacture gepirs.” “Do we have a license to produce them?” “No,” Schneider said. “But considering our current situation, infringing on patents is not exactly my greatest worry.” Millhouse snorted. “I can see that. Is there some reason why you want an army of gepirs?” “Of a sort. Well, really, more of a hunch. The General Purpose Industrial Robot is the most versatile and reliable industrial robot made. That’s why I bought them. There’s a solution out there, somewhere; I can feel it. Whatever it is, it will probably, almost certainly, require a much larger industrial base than we have now. I want to expand that base. That’s something we can do now, in advance of whatever we come up with.” Millhouse nodded. “I’ll get on it right away.” “One last thing, John.” “Yes?” “You were the genius behind our ships before. The Troy mission is the key. Keep working on how we might get to it.” Millhouse nodded almost absently. His eyes had a faraway look. “Our ships before?” “You have something?” Schneider asked. “Maybe,” Millhouse said. “Just a glimmer right now, but…maybe.” # While Jared Arthurs allowed nobody into the C.A.M.P.E.R. who had not taken the emergency course in spacesuit wear, only Wade and Crystal, and Jared himself of course, had further qualified to do EVA work. Jared assigned the two of them the task of installing the new antenna. “I see the mount,” Wade called back over the radio. “What a mess. Looks like we’ve got metal termites.” “Is the mounting base still intact?” Jared asked. “Looks to be. Crystal, see if you can get around to the other side.” “On my way,” Crystal said. A few minutes later, she said, “It looks good from this side too. The antenna itself seems to have taken the brunt of the damage.” “All right, Mr. Arthurs. We’re ready. What do we do first?” Jared stared at the diagram on the computer screen in front of him. Even a simple space habitat, such as C.A.M.P.E.R., was far too complex for any one man to know every detail of its construction. Thus, he had had complete blueprints and repair information stored in the computer against any contingencies that might happen. “There are six bolts, two per strut, connecting the antenna to the arms from the steering motors. Do you see them?” “Yes, sir.” “Remove them. Remember to hang onto the old antenna. We may need the metal.” A short silence, then, “They’re removed, sir.” Jared nodded to himself at Wade’s reply. He had taken less time than the computer said should be required. He worked well in a space suit. “All right,” Jared said. “Now, see the waveguide tube?” “I’m not sure,” Wade said. “I think I have it, sir,” Crystal said. “It’s a steel tube made of overlapping spiral coils.” “Got it,” Wade said. “Oh,” Crystal said. “I thought it was this broken line over here. I see it now.” “The tube flexes, so drag it out to where you can work on it.” “Okay, got it,” Wade said. “Good. Now about halfway along its length you should find a coupling, like a pipe fitting.” “I see it.” “Use your clamp to fasten down the side facing the station.” “Clamped,” Wade said after a moment. “Crystal, you check it please?” “Looks good to me.” “All right,” Jared said. “Now twist the other end to the right.” “Wups,” Wade said. “What’s wrong?” Jared pulled himself closer to the radio. “It’s all right,” Crystal said. “Wade’s just being clumsy.” “I forgot to make sure I braced myself,” Wade said. “I twisted myself instead of the fitting. A moment later he said, “Okay. I’ve got it now.” With a sigh, Jared talked them through the placement of the new antenna. A few minutes later, they were floating inside the station with him, helmets tucked under their arms. “Do we have communications?” Crystal asked. “We’ll find out in a moment,” Jared said. His fingers flew over the keyboard. A few seconds later a name and coordinates appeared on the screen. “A. C. Clarke,” Jared said. “Well, let’s see if they’re listening.” “But aren’t we going to call Earth?” Wade asked. “No point,” Jared said. “Even if we talk to them, I don’t think we’ll get everyone with missile defenses to allow NASA to send up a shuttle for us. Nor do I think we’ll even convince the U. S. Government to lower their defenses long enough to let us make a reentry in the emergency capsule.” “Then what’s the point?” Crystal looked like she regretted blurting out the statement even as she said it. “The other stations are in much the same fix we are,” Jared said. “They may have some idea what to do.” He shrugged. “It’s better than sitting here doing nothing.” He typed a command into the keyboard and saw the computer confirm that the antenna had been realigned to face in a new direction. A tracking program would keep it aimed despite the motions of both C.A.M.P.E.R. and A. C. Clarke. “Aim will be somewhat crude,” Jared said, “since the program hasn’t been calibrated for any inaccuracies in your installation.” “What do you mean inaccuracies?” Wade sounded outraged. “We did good work!” Crystal’s voice held the same emotion. “I know you did,” Jared said, “but we’re talking about fractions of a degree here. You didn’t have the tools to check alignment and there’s only so much the human eye can do. I think we’ll get through, but the signal may be a little weak.” Wade looked mollified but Crystal did not seem at all appeased. A moment later, Jared tried the radio. “A. C. Clarke, this is C.A.M.P.E.R. Do you read me? Come in please, over.” Static burst from the radio speakers, then, “Omigod! I’ve got somebody! Hello? Say again. Who is calling?” “This is C.A.M.P.E.R., A. C. Clarke. Over.” “Roger, C.A.M.P.E.R. I can’t tell you how glad we are to hear your voice. We thought all the LEO stations…I mean, we didn’t think anybody had survived.” “We almost didn’t,” Jared said. “And we still might not.” He summarized their situation. “So that’s where we stand,” he concluded. “We were hoping you might have some suggestions.” “C.A.M.P.E.R.,” the voice from A. C. Clarke said, “I’m going to have to get Mr. Terrence. He’s been talking with Mr. Schneider. I think Mr. Schneider is putting together some sort of survival plan, but I don’t know anything about it. Can you hold on?” “I can wait,” Jared could not suppress an ironic grin. Wait was all he could do.

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