PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS PART 2 OF THE STORY. PART 1 IS AVAILABLE HERE:
Brian went off to tour the rest of the ship. The hydroponics bay, which was both a source of extra food and the control center for plumbing, took him about a half hour to glance over. Michael Dougal, the Life Support officer, knew his job, nothing was going wrong there. He found about half the crew, ship’s and construction, in the rec room, attention about equally divided between the game system, some network feed from Earth, and an interesting ping-pong game. His second in command, Shawn Henderson, seemed to be using the personal comm for an interview as well. Brian decided to listen for a while.
“Yeah, we’ve got 15 people on the ship. 4 command staff, 4 engineering staff, our doctor, and the 6 members of the construction crew. We have four so that we can have at least one person on duty each shift, but the doctor is mostly on-call. Yes, we have 3 decks. Top deck is the control center and hydroponics, middle deck has quarters, medical, and the rec room I’m in now, as well as the magnetic shield in the center. Lower deck is engines and machinery. Yeah, it’s not like Apollo, we don’t have a separate command and lander module, although we still use a two-stage rocket to get to the moon.” Shawn was evidently using an ear bud to hear the questions. Brian looked around the rest of the rec room.
He noticed that BBC had a new Dr Who special coming up in the next week, and made a note to get that piped up here. He next went through the ship’s quarters, made sure everything was tidy, the last thing they needed was for some idiot to break something because some other idiot didn’t stow their personal effects. Finally, he checked in on the medical center and the airlock, although the latter only briefly.
Finally, he entered the engine and service section, part of which was on this level, especially the magnetic shield generator. The name generated a lot of confusion among those who didn’t understand it, it didn’t actually produce some sort of impenetrable shield, it simply projected a strong magnetic field when turned on that turned away most high-energy charged particles. To deal with the sorts of chargeless Radiation likely to be found in space, the exterior hull had two plates of leaded glass, polarized at right angles to each other, and the windows were made of the same substance, easily turned to right angles at a moment’s notice. The decks and bulkheads were lined with the same material, for much the same reason that each room could be sealed airtight: redundancy.
The Engineering Officer, Vernon Gleason, kept everything here in shape, and Brian descended to check on him. He found him playing poker with his men, and cleared his throat. “Well, hello there, captain. Care to join us for a hand?”
Brian smiled. “No, thanks. Just checking that everything’s alright.”
Vernon nodded. “So long as Latimer here,” he said, nodding to the man on his right, “Doesn’t keep losing and taking all the chores, we’ll be fine.” The men laughed, save Latimer, who reddened.
Brian nodded. “Well, Latimer, my first bit of advice, learn to keep a poker face, that’ll help you on your bluffing skill. My second bit of advice is not to let this con artist,” he nodded at Vernon, “Deal to you from the bottom of the deck.” He patted the crewman on the shoulder, and then headed back up the ladder. “Vernon, when we get our first proton storm, let me know if any make it to the generator, I’d like to know just how efficient they are.” Vernon nodded to the captain, and then went back to his game.
The 10.7cm alarm woke Brian, and he was in the command deck almost before he had fully woken up. He noted happily that the windows seemed to be mirrors, so he didn’t have to worry about that. Eric rushed in after him, followed by Vernon. “Eric, check the telemetry from Blizko 5, check the logs, see if we can get a workable few extra minutes of warning. Vernon, go down and check the shield, let me know how things are there.” He frowned, looking at the angle of the magnetic field generator. “Also, let Catherine know to stay out of the medical center, at least until we’re sure it’s safe.” Vernon nodded, and headed down the stairs. Brian switched on the internal comm. “Attention, this is the captain. It does look like we have a flare in progress, looks like a decent coronal mass ejection, but we should be fine on the shielding, and the storm probably won’t last more than a few hours.”
Eric looked up. “I think I found it here, captain.” Brian walked over to Eric’s terminal. “Look here. See this pattern of currents? I think that’s what caused it. We’ll need to see another up close, but I think we’re going to be lucky in that respect.” Brian nodded. “I’m glad we have an extra week or two planned in case of just such contingencies. Hopefully, the storm hits us soon, then we can head on out.”
January 19th, 2035, 2200UTC: Fourth proton storm came by four hours after the CME was noticed. Definite correlation means we have an extra five minutes warning before the next CME happens, or at least until we see it happen. The Construction Crew is heading out early tomorrow, hoping to make up for time that will be lost when we inevitably get another CME. My only worry is the mild disruption to electrical systems caused by the protons interacting with the field. I’m glad that the pressure fail safes are entirely mechanical in nature. Fortunately, according to Engineering, even the worst storm we’ve gotten has resulted in at most 10 REM exposure in medical, which is unfortunately along the axis of the generated field. When we can, we should add in a method of turning the lander while it’s landed, I’d rather not have protons spiraling in through anyone who’s sick or injured.
Brian looked up from his writing. Four Proton storms in as many days, all of them prompt, fortunately, he didn’t relish the idea of waiting a day or two for the damn things to arrive. Not that they would be that horrendous to deal with, not much worse than the Radiation dose from living in the Urals most your life, but better to minimize exposure, as it would be all at once. And with Blizko 5’s feed giving them an extra five minutes that he could program in, Brian was feeling pretty good. Perhaps someday they’d set up a network of satellites, ones with century-long life spans, instead of the year life Blizko 5 had been given by the optimists. Obviously they would be a bit further out from the corona, but these magnetic patterns could be read from a good distance, and with less danger to the craft. He toyed with the numbers a bit, and then started working on some random scenarios.
He decided to check on the proton storms, work out a worst-case scenario. Have them approach at .9 of light speed. Starting from there and getting smaller, he worked with the numbers, and they gave him answers, just like they always had. He decided, by the time it was done and he felt like actually going to bed, that if he had a choice he’d be on the earth’s equator during such a proton storm. Yawning and moving with exaggerated care, as he’d nearly broken his nose the other night; he got into bed and tied himself down. Sleepwalking, he’d decided long in advance, was something to avoid in less than half a gee.
Brian came up to the command deck, only yawning mildly, right at 600UTC. “So, how’s our little generator of storms coming along?”
Eric chuckled. “It’s being cranky again, just like when it started. Not sure when it’ll go, but it’ll be big when it does so, maybe the biggest yet.”
Brian smiled. “Glad to have Tesla on my side, or at least half of him. I’ll be doing an inspection, let the crew know that the call may come at any time.” Eric nodded as Brian walked on down.
When Brian reached the field generator, Vernon was there. “Eric told me we’ll be getting our biggest one yet, I’m hoping to try to catch one of the buggers getting in here.” His proton detecting apparatus was set almost inside the torus that generated the magnetic field.
“Won’t the field gradient mess that up there?” Brian looked at the electromagnet curiously. After all, it was likely to keep him safe and cancer free yet again.
“Nah, I’ve already worked out the details. I won’t get as exact a count as I might have otherwise, but I’m more curious if there’ll actually be a count. Honestly, 12 was getting weak showers compared to ours, this is the first real field stress test of the damn thing.”
Brian nodded. “Well, let me kn-“ The intercom cut him off.
“Captain, this is Eric, would you come up here?”
Brian smiled at Vernon. “Well, looks like you’ll be getting your guys in a few hours.” He hurried, but not too quickly, up to the command deck, where Eric had a puzzled look on his face. “So, how’s the weather?”
“I’m not sure. The readings here are crazy. Definitely setting up for a CME in the next twenty minutes, might as well call the construction crew.”
Brian nodded, and switched the construction crew’s channel on. “Attention, this is the captain. We’ve got a large CME about to happen, you might as well come early and avoid the rush.” He took his finger off the toggle, and then turned back to Eric. “So, talk to me.”
“There’s magnetic, Doppler, electrical shifts all over the place. I think Blizko’s going to be right in the center of the ejection.”
“Remind me to send my condolences to the Russians, but what does that mean for us?”
“I don’t know. Blizko’s hull seems to be reacting in odd ways. There’s not that much conductive metal in coronal orbit and the central processing unit of the thing’s in a Faraday cage.” Graphs and false-color images filled various sections of the workstation. “I don’t know exactly what it’s doing to the CME, but it’s doing something.” Brian smiled. “So long as those things come at us in less than half of light speed, I’ll count myself lucky. With the current field, that’s about our survivability point, after that we’re toast.” He frowned. “And at that, we’re all hiding in the engine room, and keeping from being too close to the line axis of the field, and hoping that the magnet doesn’t short out.”
“You think about such lovely things, Captain, it’s a wonder you haven’t spaced yourself.” Brian sent Eric a sharp look. “Anyways, it looks li- holy shit!” Suddenly, there was a bright flash in the middle of several of the false colors. A few seconds later, the 10.7 alarm went off.
Brian made a face. “This is the captain, this alarm is not, repeat, not a drill.” He turned back to Eric. “Okay, so that was what, some large coronal current shorting itself on our dear Russian probe? Some electrically charged magnet accelerating towards Blizko? Aliens demanding to see our leader?”
Eric shrugged. “You’ve got me beat, but as ship’s bookie, I’m willing to give you 10 to 1 against the aliens idea.” Brian snorted. “Best bet, the cage started conducting, and it messed with the normal flow.”
Brian shrugged. “This mean anything to us?”
Eric looked up. “Well… It’s at 60 degrees west… We might get some interesting magnetic effects. Where’s the crew?”
Brian glanced over at his desk. “Hmm. Looks like they’re just over an hour out.”
Eric nodded. “I don’t think it’ll take less than an hour to get here, even with the solar magnetic field giving it a line to us. Still, we’re pretty good.” He glanced at a sudden light on his board. “Or maybe not.” He tapped on his console, and pulled up a false-color solar image. “Looks like it’s getting fairly interesting, in the Chinese sense. We’re getting some odd light from the point. I wonder how much of that is Blizko.”
Brian sighed. “If only they had the field set up where they’re building Apollo Base, I’d feel a lot better. Well, we already called for them to come in, we’ve got time.”
The next fifteen minutes were a flurry of communication, often cut off by static, with Houston, promising new and interesting results. Vernon had his detector set up, and tied it into the command deck feeds, while he stayed there to make any necessary adjustments to the field. Suddenly, Eric pointed out towards the Earth. “Look at that! They shouldn’t have an aurora yet!”
Brian looked up, and then glanced at the feed from the detector. “Holy shit,” he breathed, then yelled on the comm, “Vernon, verify those proton counts.”
“Huh? One second… Holy shit, sir, we have genuine proton counts.” The lights flickered.
To Be Concluded...
Part Three now online here:
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.