PLEASE NOTE: This is the conclusion to the story. Part 1 is available online here, http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-107cm-part-1-cameron-... and part 2 is available here. http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-107cm-part-2-cameron-...
Brian turned to general comm. “All hands, we have proton storm hitting NOW. Adam, talk to me.” He glanced at the map, and knew that the construction crew was as good as dead. “Tell me you can work a miracle.”
There was a moment’s silence, and then the foreman’s voice came on. “Captain, I have an idea that might save us out here, but we can’t talk, too busy.”
Brian lowered his head. “Good luck, then.” He switched the comm to all shipside. “Catherine, get out of medical, by now you’ve probably been hit by 100 REMs already. Vernon, you get out of there too.”
Catherine simply gave acknowledgement, but Vernon’s voice came on with a differing tune. “Sorry, captain, but someone has to make sure this damn thing keeps working. You make sure everyone else is safe, and I’ll make sure you’re safe, sound like a trade?”
“Vernon, if you die from this, I’m going to kill you.” Laughter come through the comm, a bit distorted. Brian looked up at Eric. “How fast are these things coming?” He paused, adding numbers in his head. “Holy shit. They have to be moving at close to a third of light speed, don’t they? Or faster?”
Eric shook his head. “I don’t know. This is entirely new.”
Brian muttered, and then plugged some numbers into a console. His face blanched. “All crew, stay at least two meters from any outside walls, for your own safety.” He switched over to engineering. “Vernon, please tell me the magnetic north is pointing to the left of the sun?”
“One sec, captain.” Brian waited, listening. “Negative sir, our magnetic north is right of the sun. Oh, shit, that’s bad isn’t it?”
Eric looked at Brian. “I don’t get it. What’s so bad about the way it’s pointing?”
Brian shook his head. “The way the protons are being accelerated. Nobody’s going to be on the bottom of the ship, and the field goes into the ground a ways. But the protons will be accelerated by a direct right-hand rule, which means in this case, that the protons that might’ve otherwise safely passed us by to hit the moon will instead be pulled towards the ship. Our best bet is to be sunwards.” He paused, and then went on the comm. “Everyone assemble by the airlock, and again, stay at least two meters from outside hulls whenever possible.” He glanced up at the roof. “C’mon, Eric, we’ve probably gotten close to 100 REM just sitting here. Let’s run on down to where stray protons probably won’t hit.”
They quickly went down two decks, and met the crew there. Some of them were already sick, although at this point, that was probably just psychosomatic. Catherine was giving everyone injections. She looked up as Brian and Eric came down. “Hey, captain, Eric. I’m just giving some preventative shots against one of the symptoms, just an antiemetic. I’ve got anesthetic and antibiotics for anyone too badly burned, too.”
“Good thinking, we probably got some exposure too.” The lights flickered some more, then went out. Red emergency lights came on.
“Shit. Vernon! We just lost the lights!”
“The field is still getting power, probably just a short! Send Latimer down to check it, he’s good with electronics.”
Brian looked around ‘til he found Latimer. “Hey there, it’s Scott, right? Scott Latimer?” The man nodded. He looked almost frozen with fear. “We need you to go down and check on the electrical systems, get the lights back on, and make sure we don’t lose anything more vital. We’ve got a field with strength approaching one Tesla in certain areas, and the storm is causing enough EMF to short out circuits. Now, if you run through the fielding room quickly, you shouldn’t get a strong dose of protons.”
Latimer looked up at him, and Brian saw he had been crying. “What about Jenny? Will she make it?”
Brian thought a second, and then remembered a Jenny in the construction crew. “Adam is one of the cleverest men on this ship. He’s her best chance at survival. However, if we’re all dead, they’ll be stuck up here with no way to get back and thus no treatment for the radiation poisoning.” Latimer nodded, with a hope that Brian didn’t himself feel. Suddenly, Brian had an idea. “Suit up before you get down there, just in case.” He turned around. “Everyone, suit up! You too, Vernon! If we lose the air, we’ve got several hours in our suits, so we should be fine.”
Everyone started suiting up, and Vernon called from the shielding room, “Got mine in here, just in case of a breach.”
Brian smirked. “Anyone’s suit not in the airlock or here?” A number of hands, including Eric’s went up. “Okay, you guys, run quick, grab your suits, come back. Everyone else we’re suiting up, just like the drills. Shouldn’t take you much more than a few minutes.” Satisfied that everyone else was okay, Brian suited up, and then heard a clank and a whir as the normal lights came back up. He went over to one of the consoles, and started looking for emergency commands to bring some of the command ability down here. He had just activated that and a few others by the time Eric came down. “Okay, folks, since we don’t have much to do until we have some other crisis, I’ve decided to get us some music and something to watch on the rec screen, don’t go in there, but we can watch it through the door.”
The rec room’s main TV screen went to an external video of the earth, showing the aurora being caused by this storm, with a smaller, false-color embedded image of the entire spectrum. And throughout the Verne, the strains of Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” started playing, to a few chuckles by members of the crew.
The storm lasted several hours, although after the initial worry, the rest seemed to be lower energy protons. Vernon, however, had suffered a possibly fatal dose of radiation. “I’m not sure entirely, captain, but I’d estimate a bit over 4 Sieverts. He has a chance, with medical help, but we need to get back to Earth.”
Brian nodded, then hit the external comm. “Construction crew, are you alive? Please come in.” He then set the computer to send that out every minute until he received an answer. He turned to Catherine. “So long as there’s a chance, we can’t leave them out there.” He looked at Vernon, who appeared pale, with bruises all over, and blood coming from his nose and mouth. “You do your best for him now; we’ll get him home as soon as we can.”
It was twenty minutes later, when the call came from Adam. “Hey, Captain, we’re fine, have some mild cases of radiation poisoning, but we got shielding up pretty fast. I would estimate no more than 300 REM in the worst case, so we have a few invalids, but nothing life-threatening yet. We’re coming back in the crawler, I’d estimate 30 minutes until arrival. Let Cathy know we’ve got the wounded coming.”
Brian was so relieved, he almost cried. He sent back, over the general comm so the whole ship could hear, “We copy that, construction crew. Medical, we have multiple cases of radiation poisoning, none above an estimated 3 Sieverts, incoming in 30 minutes.”
About this time, mission command finally came through. “-ase, do you read? Houston to Apollo Base, Apollo Base, do you read?”
“We read you loud and clear, Houston. How’s the weather down there?”
Cheers came through the radio. “We’re fine, what’s the situation up there?”
Brian cleared his throat. By now, he was feeling the effects of the dose he’d gotten, and was glad of the anti-emetic. “We have some radiation doses ship-side, mostly in the 1-2 Sievert range, but Vernon’s an estimated 4.5 Sieverts or so. The construction crew was caught outside in it, but through some miracle, their max dose is in the estimated range of 3 Sieverts. I recommend we return to Earth at the earliest window.”
“Copy that, Apollo Base. We have a window coming up in twelve hours. I recommend you get some rest.”
“Will do, Houston. Apollo Base out.” Brian sagged in his chair. Once Adam came in and explained what miracle he’d pulled from his ass, then Brian would get some sleep.
“Wait, the shielding was rated for 500 MeVs? You’re kidding.”
Adam smiled back from his bed. “I know, that’s what I thought when I first read it. But I figured if we had a worst-case scenario, that it could help a lot. So I’d done a few mock drills to remove the shielding and take cover under it. All that to shield against maybe 100 REM over a lifetime of working it. I tell you, once I saw activity in my portable cloud chamber, I started us working on it. That was almost 2 minutes before you called.”
Brian nodded. “Well, your design for a shield was a good one, if you write it up; I’ll recommend it to all the space agencies. Also your portable cloud chamber, honestly that probably kept most of you from ending up like Vernon.”
Adam nodded weakly. “Will he make it?”
Brian shrugged. “We’ve never attempted to lift off of the Earth or the Moon with someone that far dosed, or really anyone with any serious radiation burns. But if he can survive liftoff, he should be able to survive landing, their window’s got a pretty gentle landing, in theory. Anyways, the time it will take from liftoff to landing should get everyone past the initial symptoms, except maybe Vernon.” He stood up from the foot of the bed.
“Anyways, I better get some sleep, looks like we still may have some proton events. With any luck, they’ll have a stronger field on Artemis 16, and one of your shelters. Have a good sleep.” He walked by another bed, where Latimer was talking with Jenny, who’d suffered a 2.5 Sievert dose. “Latimer, you should get some sleep, with Vernon out of commission, you’re the main engineering officer.” Latimer nodded, and then went back to talking to Jenny.
Brian finally went to his bunk, took an antiemetic and an anesthetic, and tried to sleep. Compared to the last several hours, getting home would be a breeze. Artemis 16 would have a bit more work, but in the end, Apollo Base would be finished, and who knows, maybe someone who’s been out here before is exactly the kind of administrator the base needs. You could get a deputy to make sure the paperwork is done, but the person in charge should have experience.
Maybe someday it would be him.
Copyright 2011, Cameron McCoy
Cameron McCoy has lived most of his life in Seattle, WA, with a brief interlude in Salem, OR, as well as St Petersburg and Kirov, Russia. He is 28 years old, and has taken far too long in getting his Bachelor's degree in Physics and Astronomy, and is now taking too long in heading off to grad school for Astrophysics. He has run tabletop roleplaying games for his friends and family since he was 6, but this is the first piece of writing he ever considered finished enough to get published.