Storyline: The Ride

Brutus arrived in orbit, queueing a release of a slow spinning satellite that would remain asynchronous with the landing site. With a silent dance, small rockets oriented the satellite, as solar arrays and antennae opened and closed, testing the systems. In a few minutes, Brutus would receive the first string of communication exchanges, high resolution photography and radar scans of the landing surface, weather information and the queue to start the “The Ride” phase, or atmosphere entry.

Gerome woke up. It was the 4th and final awakening on his trip. While his head was fuzzy and his mouth felt like he had been eating insulation, he was fairly certain this time he would be preparing for entrance. The stasis bunk clouded with a blast of mist that smelled faintly of apples, and when the fog cleared, so did Gerome’s brain. He was hungry.

“Brutus, ETA on entry please.”

Welcome Gerome, I hope you had a pleasant sleep. The time is 21:08:47. Entry will occur in approximately 2 hours. You will find refreshments in the cooler. All systems are go. Please run entry protocol tests.

“Fine.” Gerome wondered about the wisdom of speaking to a computer. It seemed odd, but the computer had been programmed to use natural speech patterns, and he had the ability to change it’s voice, language, even accent and sex. Yet he had given it a fairly electronic voice, just to remind him this was NOT a person.

His legs were quite stiff, as was just about every other muscle in his body. The last stasis session was nearly 200 hours, and while his body was provided with nutrition and mild electrical stimuli to help prevent bone and muscle loss, he still felt somewhat plastic. Protocol required a short period of calisthenics, followed by a quick checkup at the medical station. It only took a few deep bends with bungies cables for sweat to break. With no gravity, Gerome still fought the nausea that most people felt, but his training had helped to keep his bearings, and he knew it would pass in a few minutes.

As Gerome sipped a cold protein drink, he stroked the control panel which immediately brightened to life. The lights hurt his eyes a little, but he quickly adjusted. Protocols were running and ship statistics indicated that everything was a go. He looked through the video streams showing the position of the ship and satellite in geosynch over the landing site. The planet glowed a golden orange and the dark shadow was shrinking away from the large crater that was his destination. The truck, the train of resource modules that were being towed into position, created a long line of tubular “boxes” behind the lander. A count down timer started.

Prepare for truck release in 30 seconds…

When the count down finished, a muffled clunking sound indicated the release of magnetic and vacuum lines that held the modules behind the lander. Silently, the modules fired small bursts of gas, moving the containers into a formation preparing for entry. Short bursts of rockets launched each module into a decaying orbit. These modules would sling around the planet and enter at a lower orbit than the landing module. The monitor showed the modules, flying into the planet like fighters ascending for a bombing run, glowing slightly as they broke the upper atmosphere. Visuals would be lost as the modules raced behind the planet.

Palettes are away. Trajectory patterns are correct. Expect parachute deployments in 6 minutes. Please prepare for entry in 30 minutes. Module confirmations expected in 12.3 minutes.

Gerome powered down the non-critical lander systems, per protocol, and carefully buttoned up all of the loose gear. He kicked back over to the stasis bunk, and slid back in. This time, as he belted into the seat, a number of air cushions inflated, pinning and stabilizing his head and torso. The pressure would keep him safely in place and provide pressure to help to mitigate the effects of shock on his internal organ and sensors would monitor his vital statistics. Should something go terribly wrong, the bunk would be released like a torpedo from the lander, and very slowly descend to the planet surface via redundant parachutes and air brakes.

All palettes are down, skids deployed and leveled. Please brace for entry in 5…4…3…

There were three things that Gerome remembered from the ride to the surface. First the incredible noise that seemed to build and build, creating both an aural pressure and panic that lasted until the an incredible jerk indicated the chutes had deployed. The second was the amazing shaking, which he was sure would leave him broken and bruised. It felt like being dropped into a blender. The third was the heat, an immediate flash over of energy that raised his bunk temperature by 45 degrees C. A cold mist deployed again providing some relief.

Suddenly the shaking stopped and the noise dropped considerably as Brutus snapped against the cables holding several parachutes. These were designed to slow the lander enough to properly deploy landing skids and allow the heat shield to come away from the lander. As the shields broke off, Gerome’s ears began popping as the pressure of the capsule equalized with the atmosphere.

A low growling roar sounded, and the lander dropped away quickly as the parachutes released. Then the lander seemed to float as the rocket skids engaged. Gravity seemed to pull immediately, rather than the slow transition that was proposed in the training. It took Gerome’s breath away. In all of the confusion, he realized that Brutus was speaking…

… deployed. Airspeed slowing to 12 meters per second. Touch down to terra in 3…2…1…

The roar ramped to an explosion and the lander touched down.

Welcome home Gerome.

Gerome felt like he had ridden an explosion.

Leave a Reply