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Nov 18, 2003

I don't think you understand, Gau.

In it to win* it.

*not lose


Nov 18, 2003

I don't think you understand, Gau.

I was a total failure last week so this week I'm in with a :toxx:

Nov 18, 2003

I don't think you understand, Gau.

1498 words
Prompt image

Space Launch Complex 6 - Vandenburg Air Force Base
15 October 1986

Shuttle Discovery sat on the launch pad like a bird waiting for the right breeze.

Four astronauts were strapped into her cockpit. Griffin, Duffy, and Moira wore orange launch suits designed to save their lives in an emergency. The fourth, Chen, was already in his bulky white extravehicular suit.

“T minus nine minutes,” came the voice over the radio. “Countdown hold.” Colonel Griffin leaned forward against his harness and set a few toggles. “Launch, Discovery. Confirm hold.”

In the seat to his right, Duffy checked the chronometer on his wrist and shot Griffin a skeptical look. “We missed the first pass,” he said. “poo poo.”

“Watch your language,” admonished Griffin. “Launch, Discovery. Confirm that we have missed the first launch window.”

“Stand by,” replied the voice of launch control. In the silence that followed, Griffin and Duffy avoided eye contact. Side-by-side, they were an all-American pair. Griffin was in his mid-forties with the squared-off buzz cut framing a lined face and baby blue eyes - a standard-issue middle-aged astronaut.

Duffy’s hair was cut close as well, but it was black on black. He looked more like a college football quarterback than an astronaut: fit, focused, and determined. Those qualities had made him the first black man to fly an F-16 and, if they launched tonight, the youngest ever to pilot a shuttle - period.

“Discovery, Launch. Orbital confirms that we’ve passed the first launch window.”

Duffy just sighed. A year of training together gave these two the ability to read the slightest movement, though, and the message was clear: this isn’t going to work.

“We’ve got two more,” said Moira from the seat behind Duffy. “We’ll make it.”

“It’s too much,” said Duffy. “First launch from Vandenberg, at night, with Air Force oversight, with only three impossibly small launch windows. We’re never going to fly tonight.”

Griffin grunted. “We’re going to fly.”

“Go fever,” said Chen. It put a pall on the conversation; ‘go fever’ was the human prejudice to ignore small problems so as to make a launch happen. The curse hung especially heavy now, just eight months after it had doomed Challenger. The only reason Discovery was even on the launch pad was direct intervention by the President on behalf of the Air Force - over NASA’s objections.

“Launch readiness check complete,” announced the radio. “Weather good. We are go!”

Griffin keyed his transmitter. “Launch, Discovery. Ready to resume countdown.” The clocks on the instrument panel rolled over: 8:59, 8:58.

“Confirm internal guidance,” said Duffy. “OPS 1.”

Two minutes. “Close visors.”

“If anyone wants to get off this ride,” said Duffy, “now’s the time!”


“Okay, I can see it now,” said Duffy. “Rotating.” Discovery pitched down, putting the payload bay - and the windows above Moira’s station - in range of the satellite.

“It’s bigger than we thought,” Moira said, floating up toward the window. The satellite looked like it had been cobbled together from whatever junk was laying about Baikonur. “It’s about...six feet on its longest dimension.” The wrecking-yard aesthetic concealed state-of-the-art Russian surveillance technology. “Are you ready down there?

“Depress cycle complete,” said Griffin. “Ready to open outer door.”

“Are you sure you can’t just grab it with the arm?” asked Chen over the radio. “Snatch and grab and we go home!”

“Aww,” replied Moira, “I can’t do that. You’d have come all this way for nothing!” They shared a laugh.

“Okay, I’m outside the airlock. Let’s go make a friend.” Chen thrusted slowly toward the satellite. As it grew nearer he saw the shine on the hull, unburnished by years of debris and radiation.

Chen reached around and pulled out his Neutralizing Retrieval Assistance Module (NRAM) - or, as Chen liked to call it, the jumper cables. He fastened one u-loop to the end of a solar array. Deliberately, he floated downward to the main body of the satellite, playing out the thick cable as he went. Chen placed the NRAM module on the side of the hull and attached leads to several pieces of equipment.

“Okay, I’m ready to deploy out here,” he said.

“Go to deploy,” replied Griffin.

“Copy that.” Chen depressed the CHARGE button, waited until the light was solid, and then selected ACTIVATE. A visible spark jumped down from the solar panel,out through the leads, and into the body of the satellite. “NRAM deployed. The circuits are fried chicken by now.”

Chen wasn’t wrong; all of the primary circuitry inside the satellite was destroyed by the pulse. The Russian engineers had foreseen such a possibility, though. Inside, a capacitor was building up a dangerous static charge just waiting for a home.

“Ready for arm retrieval,” said Chen, floating upward, just a few inches from the solar panel. “I-”

An arm of blue lightning arced across a few bits of space dust and into Chen’s backpack. The radio made a deafening squeal and then was silent.


A few minutes later, the mood inside the shuttle was hot enough to melt lead. Both Duffy and Griffin kept looking to one particular clock on the panel. Right now it read 35:04 - thirty-five minutes and change until their mission was over. They couldn’t risk detection by passing over Russian telescopes by staying up for another orbit.

As Griffin and Duffy silently fumed up front, Moira worked at her station in the back. Slowly, she brought the mechanical arm closer to the satellite. Griffin was going by-the-book: Chen had given the go-ahead.

“Ready to capture,” Moira said.

“Go for capture,” replied Griffin.

“We could contact Houston,” said Duffy, breaking from procedure. “They could approve a mission variation.”

“The computers can’t handle the encryption load,” Griffin explained. “We’d have to break telemetry.”

The claw curled around a large u-shaped protrusion and closed tightly. “Capture,” said Moira. “I’ve got her. No impairment to arm functionality.” Moira wasn’t about to step into between the two titans of testosterone up front. She knew the mission and the rules. It was a goddamned tragedy, but Griffin had been correct: it was better for Chen to die for a successful mission then a failure. “Bringing the bitch in.”

Griffin unfastened his harness and floated back to join Moira. Through the windows, he could see her bringing the satellite smoothly - and quickly - into the cargo bay. Behind it, Chen rotated serenely in front of the stars. Duffy was young, he thought, but Griffin flew in Vietnam. The regret at having to leave a good man behind was familiar.

“Okay, I’ve got her inside the bay.” Moira moved over to another panel. “Closing arms...confirming lock…” She turned around and looked directly at Griffin. “Retrieval complete.”

“Well done.” Griffin looked up at Chen, then to Moira and Duffy, and back up at Chen. The clock read 24:33. Duffy said nothing, but Griffin heard him all the same: Decision time, old man.

Chen could be dead. Hell, he probably was dead. Even if he wasn’t yet, he’d have to survive in the suit until they landed. If they just brought him back into the cabin, he’d die of narcosis like a deep-sea diver with the bends. Nobody trained for this. NASA procedure called for two astronauts for every EVA; this way, if one was disabled, the other could retrieve them. The Air Force, on the other hand, had prioritized a minimal crew. If Chen couldn’t make it back, the book said to leave him behind.

“You’ve got ten minutes to get him inside the airlock,” he said. On the other hand, they’d never lost an American in space - and certainly never left one there.

It surprised Moira that her hands weren’t shaking. Chen’s suit was swinging an awfully lot off the end of the claw; twice she narrowly avoided bashing him against hull. As the clock ticked down, she struggled to get Chen oriented and into the airlock.

Griffin sailed past her and into his seat. “We’re out of time,” he said, without looking back at Moira. “Throw him clear of the shuttle.”

“He’s almost there,” Moira said, her voice desperate. “Duffy, thrust aft.”

“Force him inside?” Duffy objected. “We could damage the hull!” Moira shot Duffy a pleading look. He sighed and pulled on the translation stick. There were a series of thumps; Moira dived down to the airlock. Chen was there, floating inside.

“Closing outer door,” Moira said. Capture.


Chen opened his eye - the one that still worked - and smiled up at Griffin from the hospital bed. “Yeah,” he replied, “Moira came yesterday. Pete sent me a letter; they’ve got him flying Falcons again.”

“Good,” Griffin said. “I heard about your leg. Does it hurt?”

“Not yet.” Chen glanced over at the half-dozen pill bottles on the table. “They’ve got me on the good drugs. They say I should be able to walk with enough PT.”

Suddenly, he reached for Griffin’s arm. With enough time spent together, he didn’t have to say anything. Griffin heard it all the same:

Thank you.

Nov 18, 2003

I don't think you understand, Gau.

drat, that's a big shovel to bury myself with.


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