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This is an extract from the book "Extrasolar Menace" which is available as an ebook for 99 cents.
Mercury Rescue
 

The Ganymede expedition had returned, and Andy was giving a party to welcome the people back.  After the party, some of them were relaxing in one of Andy’s sitting rooms.  Their innocuous conversation was interrupted by one of Andy’s friends who told them about the latest news.  They watched an unfolding drama on television.

The announcer was saying:

“The eruption has destroyed the Mercury base and the shuttle on the surface. All the ground party are assumed to be dead.

“A rock ejected by the volcano has hit and destroyed the Mercury Base Ship, but all the crew were able to get off the ship in the shuttle attached to the ship.

“I will now hand you over to Professor Robinson of the Mujib Rahman School of space studies.”

Professor Robinson said:

“All members of the crew of the base ship are still alive, but only have enough air for a matter of hours.  It is totally impossible to get help to them in time.  They are condemned to die very soon.

“Their shuttle is not an interplanetary ship.  Although they have used most of their fuel, they cannot escape from the Sun’s gravitational pull.  The shuttle is in an orbit that goes round the Sun in an ellipse.  At its closest point to the Sun, the shuttle will be too hot for people to survive, but they will all be dead long before this.”

All round the world and in other inhabited places of the Solar System people watched in impotent horror.  The shuttle was in good contact with the Earth through the system of satellite relays.

Mikhail glanced at Pete.  Pete seemed as immobile as everyone else, but Mikhail could see that Pete was applying his odd mind to the problem.  Pete said:

“I can save them!  I need help to get the ship ready.”

Jack asked:

“You mean in “The Road to Peace”?”

“Yes.”

Jack objected:

“But it will take much too long.  At one g acceleration you will be much too late.”

Then Jack realised the implication of what he had just said and continued:

“How many g?”

Pete answered:

“Ten.”

Dr. Ali exclaimed:

“That’s impossible.  I know you can take fifteen times the Earth’s gravitational pull for a short time, but no Human body can withstand a sustained ten g for hours at a time, not even yours.”

Pete said:

“I can do it.  One for all!”

Jack said:

“No, not alone, I’m coming too.  I can take nearly as high g as you.”

Albert, the Wise Ape signed:

“I am coming as well.  I can take as many g as you, and I do not have a Human body.”

They got to Andy’s island very quickly and took off directly through the open roof.  Andy had installed a folding roof to replace the fixed one Pete had destroyed in his last hare brained rescue.

As they waited for the take off with the computer counting down from ten, Jack recited:

 

When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

When the hurlyburly’s done,

When the battle's lost and won.

That will be ere the set of Sun.

 

Then the virtual engines cut in and the acceleration hit them.  The acceleration couches were compressed by their increased weight and supported all parts of their bodies.  They could move their arms, but since they weighed ten times as much as normal, it required great effort to do this.

Pete was the strongest human for his weight in existence, but his right hand had only finished its regeneration a short time before and was not yet as strong as it should be.  His right foot was not even complete.  Jack was also very strong for his size, but could hardly move at all, Albert was stronger than a Human, but still felt as if his arms were made of lead.

It was announced on television that a rescue attempt was being made:

“Jack Jones, our most experienced space captain, having led the successful first expeditions to Mars, Ganymede and Saturn is attempting a rescue in ‘The Road to Peace’, with Pete Jones and Albert the Wise Ape.

“We have attempted to contact Jack’s father, Andy Jones, for a comment, but he and Dr. Ali Rahman are in transit to an undisclosed destination.”

Hour after hour, the torment continued.  To Jack his body was crying out with pain and demanding that the torture stop.  He was controlling the ship for the first part of the journey.

The ship was actually accelerating faster than the ten g because it was travelling towards the Sun, and the Sun’s gravity was pulling them in.

At last, the ship stopped accelerating.  They had reached the point where they had to start slowing down. The weightlessness was a blessed relief and they were able to exchange a few words.

Jack asked:

“Are you both all right?”

Albert signed:

“Yes.”

Pete said:

“No, but I’m still here.  How about you?”

Jack said:

“Yes, I’m fine.”

Jack was lying.  He was not all right at all.  He also recognized that Pete was incapable of the same sort of conventional lie.  The Wise Apes were just as capable of lying as Humans.  Despite what Pete had said, he had the ship turned round very quickly and they started their deceleration.  Pete may have been feeling the effects of the acceleration, but he was still the one controlling the ship as it decelerated towards the stricken shuttle.

An hour later, Pete said:

“Grandad, are you all right?”

There was no answer.  Albert accessed Jack’s medical monitors. It was too much effort to use sign language under ten g, so Albert used the computer to say:

“The Captain is unconscious.  The monitor says he is alive.”

Pete continued to control the ship, but felt he was drifting in and out of unconsciousness.  He started to say something to warn Albert to be ready to take over.

Albert heard him start a sentence and then stop.  Albert waited; he accessed Pete’s medical data.  Pete was unconscious.

Albert was still conscious, but when a message came through from the Space Agency he did not have the strength to answer it.

It was announced:

“Contact with the ‘Road to Peace’ has been lost.  Automatic systems on the ship suggest that both Humans are unconscious, and are giving ambiguous information about Albert the Wise Ape. All hope of rescuing the Mercury expeditioners seems lost.

On the stricken shuttle the air was running very short.  They had been told from Earth about the attempted rescue. They detected the incoming spaceship, decelerating at 10 g.

The doctor said:

“It is decelerating too fast for a pilot.  They must have sent a ship under computer control.”

The captain answered:

“Yes, this has never been done successfully before.  Always when it has been attempted for a complicated thing like a space rescue, something happens and the computer is not flexible enough to handle it.  A combination of remote control and on board computer is more successful, but the delay in receiving messages this far from the Earth means that remote control is of very limited use this close to Mercury.

“I suppose there was no choice.”

The incoming ship contacted them.  They could hear that it was a computer simulated voice.  As they watched anxiously, there was consternation when there was a clear mistake in the approach.  The computer would not be able to handle it and by the time it got new instructions they would be dead.

The computer voice said:

“Sorry, I’ll try again.”

This was not something a computer was likely to say, so they were left wondering.

Albert was lonely.  He had depended on Pete, but he knew what to do.  He kept making little mistakes but was eventually able to complete the rendezvous with the shuttle and seal the two ships together, extending the Bradley Shields of the Road to Peace to make certain no air leaked out.  He was fumbling badly and even this simple task took him longer than it should have done.  He let the Humans from the shuttle in.

Albert was in great pain.  He was only able to stand upright because they were weightless.  They were all wearing magnetic boots to hold them down onto the deck.  Albert’s “boots” were specially designed for him because his feet were quite different from Human feet.  They were also different from Bonobo feet; this was one of the many clues that had been missed when it was assumed the surviving apes of Africa were Bonobos.

The captain of the Mercury Base Ship came first.  He was surprised to be met by Albert.  He asked in a puzzled voice:

“A monkey?”

The base ship’s doctor said:

“No sir; he is a Wise Ape.  They do not like being called monkeys.  They are as intelligent as us but I didn’t know any were trained for space although I read an article by Dr. Ali Rahman in the journal of space medicine suggesting that they can take higher acceleration than Humans.”

The Captain apologized to Albert.  Albert smiled.  He knew that Humans would recognize a Wise Ape’s smile to mean the same as a Human one. He signed:

“That’s all right.”

The Captain smiled back, and asked the Doctor:

“Can they talk?”

The doctor answered:

“No sir; the Wise Apes have different breathing control and cannot use Human language.  I’m sure he understands us.  He just said something in sign language.  I don’t understand it.”

The Captain said to Albert:

“Do you have another way of communicating, or are there any Humans on board?”

Albert nodded; even this was painful.  He led the way to the control room.  The Captain and one member of his crew followed while the Doctor supervised the transfer of their injured into the ship.

The Captain saw Pete and Jack unconscious in their acceleration couches. He saw Pete move slightly, so he went to check Jack.

The Captain said:

“He’s dead.  The acceleration must have been too much for him.  Albert was now in his control position and said using the computer:

“No, the medical monitor says he is still alive.  It says he has a very weak pulse at 44 beats a minute.  Pete’s heart is also beating at 44 a minute.”

The captain said:

“I’m sorry, the monitor must be wrong; they could not both have the same very low pulse rate.”

The Captain was startled by another voice.  Pete said:

“44 heart beats a minute is the built in pulse rate of the Human heart. It means that our brains are unable to control our hearts at the moment.”

The Captain started to ask Pete a question, but saw that he was unconscious again.  He said to his crewman:

“Get the Doctor immediately.”

A little later, they had got Jack, Pete and their own injured into cabins in the ship.  The Captain was then faced with the problem of getting back.  The ship was drifting increasingly slowly away from the Sun. Soon it would start to be pulled back. They would have to restart the engines. He said to his engineer:

“I can make neither head nor tail of these controls.  I know this ship by reputation.  It has no engines.  It uses “Virtual Engines” that have to be configured for each use.  I wonder if they are already configured?”

Albert got back into his control position; he said, using the computer:

“The ‘rear’ engines are configured for 10 g of acceleration.”

The captain asked:

“Is that what you used all the way here?”

“Yes.”

“It’s no wonder both Humans are unconscious.  If we use this acceleration we will all be dead.  Can the computer reconfigure the engines?”

“No; it only assists.  I can reconfigure them.”

The Captain looked a little doubtful, but asked:

“Can you configure the engines to give us a fifth of a g?”

“Yes.  I will do this.”

Albert worked on this problem.  He found he was having trouble thinking, and had been grateful when the captain of the base ship took command.  Even sitting down he was in a lot of pain, but felt his trouble thinking was not just the pain.  It took him much longer than normal, but he did it.

The captain was glad that when Albert was finished his reconfiguration that he got the computer to analyse the result, and the computer confirmed that they were only going to be subject to on fifth of a g.  The captain simply did not know how badly affected Albert had been by the high boost.

With Albert’s assistance they started the long journey back to Earth.

After about 36 hours they were startled in the control room when Pete limped in.  Albert stood up guiltily.

Pete then did a thing that the Humans found disconcerting.  Pete held two conversations simultaneously.  People who knew Pete knew that he could follow several conversations simultaneously in different languages.  Normally he did not speak more than one language at a time simply because he only had one set of speech organs.  Now he talked to the Humans in English while cross examining Albert in sign language.  The doctor told Pete:

“You should not have got out of bed.  You have been seriously affected by the high gravity on the way here.”

The doctor told Pete to sit down and took his pulse:

“Your heart is still only beating at 44 a minute.  I am surprised you are even capable of walking.”

Pete answered:

“My normal resting pulse rate is very low, so perhaps this is why I am all right to do light tasks like walking under low gravity.  Is the ship using about half a g acceleration?”

“Actually it is only a fifth.”

Pete had now got some answers from Albert.  Pete said:

“Albert is also very badly affected by the high boost we used.  This was the first time I have ever seen him knuckle walking in Human society.  He needs to be in bed.”

The Doctor replied:

“I thought knuckle walking is natural to Wise Apes?”

Pete explained:

“Yes, it is.  In the forest they use it about a quarter of the time, and when Albert and I stay with the Wise apes in the forest, we both walk on all fours about the same amount as the other apes.

“When he is with Humans; Albert walks upright.  He has been knuckle walking now because he is in pain.”

The doctor tried to excuse himself:

“I have been concentrating on my Human patients.  I don’t even know anything about Wise Ape medicine.”

Pete said:

“Dr. Ali Rahman has studied them extensively.  The ship’s computer contains his results.  Dr. Ali himself can be consulted by radio.  He was heading to the World Space Centre so he would be available.”

The doctor said:

“Yes, I will do this.  Now, both of you should lie down.”

On Earth there was profound relief that the bulk of the Mercury expeditioners had been saved.  This was mixed in with grief for the ones who had died.  One of these was Ben Collins.  He had been honoured by the scientific community and governments, but hated by the general public.  He had warned people about the coming catastrophe from the rising sea level. He had been blamed for the things he was warning against. Ben had been burned in effigy in more countries than any other person.

Now that he was dead there was a reversal of feeling.  It was now publically recognized that he had contributed to saving millions of lives.

His wife, Dr. Collins was also dead.

 

Chapter 2 Convalescence

 

The Road to Peace did not land on Earth.  The high g forces on re-entry would not be good for the injured.   Instead the ship was put into near Earth orbit and a specialist medical team flown up to look after the patients.

The team was led by Dr. Ali Rahman.  Andy and Sarah were in the team as well; Sarah as a nurse and Andy to take command of his ship.  Jack, Pete and Albert had extensive internal injuries and it was necessary for them to undergo regeneration using the new and improved medical program recently perfected by Pete and Andy.

They would all be regressed to the age they had finished growing.  This was nearly as far as the technique could go.

Although they were stuck in near Earth orbit, their social life was surprisingly full.  Visitors were coming up frequently.

Homer, the Secretary General came with a large delegation including several Wise Apes.  Even the Matriarch herself came.

Homer presented Albert, Pete and Jack with the United Nations Medal for saving life in extraordinary circumstances.  This was the second one Pete had got.  The ceremony was broadcast all round the world.

Afterwards, Pete’s good friend, Mikhail who was Homer’s assistant, said to Pete:

“Well, there is not the slightest doubt that you can get elected Secretary General at the next election.  You largely got Homer re-elected with your vigorous campaigning for him.  It’s your turn next.”

The re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere was the gentlest ever done. The Road to Peace was using its immense power to do things not possible with normal spaceships.  Jack, Pete and Albert were all taken off in stretchers and put straight to bed.  They had been cured in zero g, and they had gone from surviving ten g to having trouble with normal Earth gravity.  The doctors were confident that they would all make complete recoveries.  They were banned from space flight for a year.

They were allowed to walk around under supervision in a couple of days, but Pete did not like his enforced inactivity.  He was not allowed to do much physically, so he thought a lot. His friends would suggest things for him to work on.

Although they did not know it on the Road to Peace, it was about the time of their re-entry that the Sun did something strange.





  
Extrasolar Menace is available as an ebook for 99 cents.