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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 136: Brown 241
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Everything was with them aboard the auxiliary ship; Derek had insisted they leave nothing behind. They even brought the robot, still programmed for planetary survey. It had taken a few hours to launch and close near enough the asteroid that they could be certain they were seeing it.
It was huge.
“All right,” Derek said, “I don’t know if this will work, but it’s the best guess I have.”
He had been over it already, but felt the need to repeat it.
“We need to calculate an intercept course. The asteroid is accelerating as it moves toward the star; we are going to be accelerating because we want as much momentum as we can generate for our impact. Hopefully the repulsors, which we will activate in the last minute, will absorb the impact and protect the ship. But the calculation has to be precise. At the moment the repulsor beams hit the asteroid, we have to be on a direct line for its center of mass, traveling at the angle at which we want to push the target. The hope is that we can alter its orbit sufficiently that it not only will miss the planet but will also fall into the star when it gets closer, so it doesn’t make a return orbit at some point. Have you got a proposed course?”
“Yes, sir,” Vashti replied. “Feeding the course to your console now.”
It looked good. In any case, he trusted her math, and was willing to bet that she knew her part. The questions really were whether he could execute this, and whether the ship could actually perform as he hoped. He started moving toward the position from which they would have to begin their run, hoping that he could time it right. If he hit the asteroid off center, it would spin, absorbing at least some of the impact into a revolving motion and likely hitting the ship laterally. He had to get it right, but it was not easy to aim. He couldn’t actually see the impact point that was the repulsor beam, and he had to aim for where the asteroid was going to be when they got there, and really he did not know what the target point looked like, only where the computer said it should be.
But flying by instruments was something he had done probably more often than not. He could do this.
Engaging the programmed course, he felt the engines begin accelerating on a straight line toward the empty space ahead. The asteroid was coming; he could see it approaching from the side.
“Prepare to activate repulsor.”
Tick, tick, tick, they had to time this right.
The invisible beam apparently shot out ahead of them and impacted the asteroid. He felt the ship jolt, saw Vashti thrown against her harness. The distance to the asteroid was still closing, as the repulsors were strained by their momentum against the mass of the object.
Suddenly Vashti said, “Derek, we have a problem.”
It took him a moment to find the right word.
“The asteroid is breaking up. We may have shattered it.”
That would be good, really. If it broke into small enough bits, it would burn up in the atmosphere, and even if some of it impacted the ground the effects would not be catastrophic. As long as it didn’t hit The Wanderer—the odds of that were relatively low.
But there was the other problem.
“Deactivate repulsor,” he said, and grabbing the stick he veered upward, hoping to pass over the course of the much too near rock.
The asteroid was definitely shattering, and pieces of it hit the hull. Derek pulled up and around, heading back for the planet. He would have to hit the atmosphere at the right angle for reentry, but he would have to get away from the scattering debris.
He began to feel a bit lightheaded.
“Is there a problem with the environment?” he said.
“We’re,” Vashti gasped, “venting atmosphere.”
Obviously the hull had been compromised, and although there were safety systems the pressure in the cabin would force air out into space, at least until there was pressure outside to counter it. He pressed toward the world ahead, trying to keep his focus.
“Do not hold your breath,” he managed to say. He spared a glance toward Vashti, but she appeared to have blacked out. This was going to be very challenging.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #456: Versers Prepare. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: