Lost Chapter #3 : Angel of Mailànkh – A Little More Hot Air From Earth

This third “Lost Chapter” is still in the novel, but was radically reduced in size with much of the explanatory narrative removed. It occurs immediately after McPherson announces (via commlink) Earth’s plans for the “Salvador Two” mission. :

Angel of Mailànkh – A Little More Hot Air From Earth

White was the first one to see the “incoming” light come alive, on the heads-up status panel. “Yo, Captain,” he said, “Message from Houston. Want to screen it first?”

No, Devon,” replied Jacobson, “I don’t think that’s necessary. You may as well put them through.”

White complied with a couple quick keystrokes and the view-screen lit up, revealing Symington, Ramirez and McPherson; Abruzzio did not appear to be there. Ramirez spoke first.

Hello, Eagle and Infinity,” he said, “This is Hector Ramirez down here at Houston. I have General Symington and Fred McPherson here with me – Sylvia is busy with the Arks project which, as you can no doubt imagine, is now going into its ‘full speed ahead’ phase, so she’s not with us today, she sends her regrets. I’m going to turn the floor over to Fred and then to the General, so they can bring you up to date on what our current status and plans are.”

The camera moved slightly to the left from Ramirez, centering on McPherson. The man looked tired and he had a touch of five o’clock shadow.

Thanks, Hector,” McPherson said. “First of all, I don’t think I need to inform you of the results of the missile attack on the ‘Lucifer’ object… it’s no secret that we’re, to put it mildly, disappointed in what has occurred, or rather, in what didn’t happen. But,“ he sighed, “There’s no point in dwelling on the past; we have to look to the future, and to next steps, now. Before I move to that, though, I’d like to commend Cosmonaut Sergei Chkalov for his fine work in assisting our long-range damage assessment scans on the comet. The data that Cosmonaut Chkalov has revealed has been of tremendous importance in helping us understand the facts and to make plans. So, Sergei, thanks again, and if you find out anything else, please don’t hesitate to send it our way.”

Chkalov nodded modestly.

After a short pause, McPherson continued, “As I said before, you guys up there are probably aware of the situation, but just so that we’re sure that everyone is on the same knowledge base, I’ll recap it briefly here. Bottom line is, we threw everything that we could scrape up against the damn comet, but, unfortunately, it appears not to have been enough – ‘Lucifer’ has been damaged, but not destroyed, and it is still on a collision course with Earth. Now, as you may also be aware, the story is not all bad, because – thanks largely to the efforts of your cosmonaut friend up there – we have discovered that the comet’s internal structure has been weakened by the attack. By how much, we’re not sure, but we are continuing our assessment, and I should tell you that associated with this we have also initiated another manned mission – in effect, ‘Salvador Two‘ – against the comet to see if we can succeed in blowing it apart, by placing nuclear explosives so as to leverage the instability caused by the missile attack…”

Tanaka exclaimed, sotto voce, “Surely they know that would be a suicide mission – the comet’s lethally radioactive and its local debris field is even more intense as the thing has gotten closer to the sun… they’d be lucky if they make it down to the surface for an hour, before…”

McPherson, still in mid-sentence, explained, “…We are having no problems getting volunteers for the crews that we’ll need, but launch vehicles are going to be a challenge, because right now every last ship we can get our hands on, has been claimed by the Arks initiative. Frankly, in view of the outcome of the first Salvador mission, I’m not happy about pulling resources out of Arks – you have to appreciate that to get so many as one or two ships capable of even theoretically making it up to ‘Lucifer’, even for a one-way mission, we’re sacrificing the ability to lift fifty, possibly a hundred, people off Earth to temporary safety; that’s a big sacrifice to accept, in the current circumstances.”

He paused a second to take a breath, then said, “Also, compared to the first Salvador mission, this one will have to take place under severely constrained circumstances, because we had months in which to prepare for the first mission but only a few weeks, at most, for this one. For example, we will have to do it much closer to Earth, just as it crosses the plane of the Moon’s orbit, in fact – we simply don’t have the specialized ships to get out as far as Salvador I, and on top of that, we can’t manufacture bombs the size of the ones that we used on the first mission, there just isn’t that amount of fissile material available – especially considering that the remaining missiles are to be used for a different mission. We’ll keep you advised of progress on this project, of course, but for now, all we can ask you do is to continue observing the comet and to send us data on any changes you see in it, ASAP.”

The Mars-girl whispered, “What is an ‘asap’?”

‘As Soon As Possible’”, replied Boyd.

Ha, I see,” the Storied Watcher said, smiling sheepishly.

Captain, I have to talk to you,” she requested, but Jacobson gestured her to silence.

McPherson concluded by saying, “Well, that’s it from me, Eagle and Infinity, as I said, keep up the good work, we sure can use the extra pair of eyes that you’ve given us. I’m now going to turn the floor over to General Symington. General?”

Symington’s face appeared, even more ridged with fatigue than had been McPherson’s; however, the General seemed more in control, less willing to show his disposition.

Greetings, crew,” he said, “And let me start by echoing Mr. McPherson’s congratulations to Cosmonaut Chkalov. Sir, I have the honor to inform you that, based on your activities so far in determining the weaknesses in the comet, your Air Force has decided to award you a medal – they haven’t told me exactly which one, but as soon as that information is forthcoming, I’ll send it your way.”

He saluted, while saying this.

Now, as Fred McPherson has explained, team, unfortunately, our main missile attack did not… achieve its full goals,” Symington commented. “But as you know, we have been drafting a series of fail-safe measures to deal with this eventuality.”

Tanaka suppressed an urge to laugh at the man’s pomposity.

Symington continued, “And I won’t bore you with the details, since you can easily access these on NeoNet, but here’s a summary. Assuming that the second Salvador mission – which, as the previous speaker has correctly pointed out, may or may not make it off the ground – is not successful, as the comet enters Earth’s atmosphere, we’re going to hit it with every remaining one of our nuclear weapons, everything down to sub kiloton-range tactical, in a last-ditch, co-ordinated strike. What’s different now is, we’re going to target these so as to exactly hit the pressure points associated with the newly-discovered fissures; we’re hoping that this will induce the object to fracture and then shatter. Inevitably, the remaining chunks of it will strike the Earth, causing catastrophic results, but this outcome can’t, we hope, be worse than if the whole thing impacted. I should tell you that planning this attack has been extremely complicated, not just because of the number of national commands and different types of weapons involved, but also because we now have to do it in such a way that we don’t also destroy too many of the Arks ships that may be in low Earth orbit at the time. It appears that some collateral damage on this front, may be inevitable.”

‘Collateral damage’… where have we heard that before, I wonder?” asked Tanaka, idly.

Other than for that,” Symington concluded, “Our plans, and your orders, remain unchanged; we’re tracking you on course for rendez-vous with ISS2 in its boosted orbit, so that’s good. The only variable that we can see right now is the outcome of the second Salvador mission, but we’re not counting on that, so proceed as you would have. That’s all I have to say… Mr. Ramirez?”

Ramirez took the microphone and said, “Well, that’s the update, Eagle and Infinity. Obviously, we had hoped to have had better news for you, and alternate plans… but life goes on, at least for the time remaining, right?”

He forced a grin and finished off with, “Awaiting your response, if any. Ramirez and Houston, over and out.”

The light and screen both dimmed.

Go ahead, Karéin,” said Jacobson.

Captain,” the Storied Watcher inquired, “I heard that your planet is going to send another space ship up to the comet… is that correct?”

Correct,” Jacobson replied. “As far as we know. The whole project may not, excuse the pun here, ‘get off the ground’, however, due to the issues which Fred McPherson pointed out, when he was speaking.”

Sir,” the alien continued, “This may represent a way out from our current problem, that is, the one involved with keeping you and your crew alive, after we meet the space station.”

Smiling knowingly, Tanaka said, excitement rising in her voice, “Yeah, I get it! Sam – don’t you see? Earth would be sending the ship to ‘Lucifer’ on a one-way trip. But it would have to have a certain amount of air in it, just to make the voyage to the comet. If Karéin could somehow get us there, or get the ship to us – well, Earth can’t miss something that they don’t expect to get back, can they?”

Exactly, Professor,” said the Mars-girl. “If, somehow, I can get the humans on this ship to this second Salvador vessel, it could serve as a kind of oasis in space for you, until I can find you a better home. Perhaps I could save the men and women who flew the new Earth ship to the comet, too. Depending on when and where, we meet it.”

Wait a minute,” objected Jacobson, “Let’s take a step back here, folks. It’s a nice idea, but right off the top, it looks like a non-starter. I can see a number of ‘gotchas’ in it.”

Such as?” asked a crestfallen Boyd.

Such as,” explained the Mars mission commander, “Apart from the fact that doing this would require us to seriously deceive Houston as to our guest’s real capabilities – which they have every right to want to put to better uses – as you, Cherie, yourself pointed out, the entire vicinity of the comet is now intensely radioactive. Given the nature of the mission, Houston is very unlikely to shield the new ship from this, after all, the crew only has to live long enough to place the nuclear charges and set them off. Assuming, of course, that the new ship even makes it anywhere near ‘Lucifer’ – we all know what happened to the previous missions, don’t we? The only way that I know of to stop the debris field, and the radiation, from killing us, air supply or not, is to intercept the second ship and stop it from getting to the comet altogether, if Karéin is even capable of that… and I categorically forbid any talk of something like that. There’s a word for it – treason. The worst kind of treason imaginable, not just against our own nation, but against all of Earth.”

Sir,” the Storied Watcher hastily interjected, “I think I could expand my bubble to protect even a ship of this size, from any amount of radiation, also from impacts with the rocks surrounding the comet. I could probably keep you safe even from the very powerful energy fields of the big planet, you know the one with the red spot on it. The radiation around the comet is no doubt much less strong. So we would not have to stop the new Salvador ship’s crew from reaching ‘Lucifer’. We could just go on board their ship as they approached it. Does knowing this, help?”

Yeah, okay,” Jacobson allowed, grudgingly. “Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that you could do that. But we have other issues to consider. To name just one, how do you get us safely from here, or from ISS2, to the new ship, as it approaches ‘Lucifer’? I thought I heard you say a short time ago, that you have trouble finding things that small, in the vastness of space. And, further to the point, you also said that we wouldn’t have enough air to last the trip from here to, well, wherever?”

The Mars-girl looked longingly into Jacobson’s face, searching for the faintest hint of approval.

Finding none, she stated, uncertainly, “I have to admit, Captain Sam Jacobson, that your objections in these respects are possibly valid. About finding the new Salvador ship, unless it were to deliberately transmit a radio homing signal, something that I could detect by concentrating on that wave-feeling, towards me, I would probably have to fly to the vicinity of the comet and then scan the dust in the debris field for signs of disturbance, a process that might take some time… of course, that would be risky, because the space ship might impact with something and thereby be destroyed, before I could get to it and protect it.”

Leaving us… kinda ‘up the creek without a paddle’, wouldn’t you say?” observed White.

If I were to guess at what that expression means, Devon,” the Storied Watcher replied, evenly, “You are right. The only alternative would be to suffuse you all with Amaiish in the slim hope that you would survive the process long enough for me to take you elsewhere. You know the risks associated with doing that. Otherwise… there would not be nearly enough air for you to survive for very long…”

About that, air, that is,” said Jacobson. “That’s the other problem, isn’t it?”

Yes,” noted the alien. “Unless I were to compress as much of the air in this ship as possible, at the highest pressure that you humans can safely tolerate, into my bubble, you would likely run out on the way to the new ship. Especially as your people apparently expect it to get to the comet only as it nears your planet, which implies that it will be that much further away from us, when we either leave this ship or your space station. Sergei, may I ask you a question about this, please?”

Anything, Karéin,” replied Chkalov.

Do you have an exact, or even approximate, understanding of the relative paths that this ship, the space station, and ‘Lucifer’ are on, and the path of the new Earth ship when it is to intersect with the comet?” she asked.

Not an exact one,” the Russian explained, “But I can give you an educated guess, since I have been studying the comet very closely and know its trajectory to Earth almost by heart. Basically, our course is diverging from that of both ‘Lucifer’ and of Earth, not surprising when you consider that the objective of boosting ISS2 is to get it a safe distance away from both those bodies. Our course takes us more rapidly away from the comet than it does from Earth, thus, when we reach the rendez-vous point with the space station, we will be at a substantial distance from Earth… assuming that our home-planet is still there, needless to say. With each passing minute, we are getting further away from ‘Lucifer’ and closer to ISS2. Does that answer your question, Karéin?”

Sufficiently, yes,” affirmed the Storied Watcher, smiling kindly at the cosmonaut. “Captain, in view of what Sergei has just said, I would have to say that doing what I suggested a minute or two ago, that is, compressing the air in here, would probably get all of you to the region of the comet, but not with a lot of margin for error. I would have to check this assumption against the exact figures, of course, because it is not the sort of thing that one can be a little wrong about, in the wrong direction, and not suffer serious consequences. You would all also be subjected to very strong forces of acceleration. I do not know if you have noticed this, but when I travel in space, I do not speed up like your ship does, that is, slowly and steadily. The only way I know how to go involves very rapid acceleration, which I could partly offset, but not completely. I have never tried doing this, with living creatures, other than myself. I think it would be safe, but I could not guarantee it…”

What if we learned how to use that power of yours to let you move us faster… you know what I’m thinking of, Karéin,” said Tanaka.

Not enough time to teach you that,” countered the Mars-girl. “In spite of what you know now. Sorry.”

Boyd and Chkalov both raised their eyebrows.

Yes, ahem,” Jacobson responded, “And the whole line of thought’s invalid, anyway. You all know why Houston wants us to dock with ISS2, that is, to give them access to our supply of air and other vital resources. Sucking it all up into Karéin’s little bubble and waltzing off with it, to parts unknown, well, that doesn’t quite square with our current set of orders, now does it?”

Glumly, the rest of them indicated agreement.

So,” Tanaka mentioned, sarcastically, “You don’t have any problem with her taking us to Salvador Two, as long as we don’t take any air to breathe, along with us, Sam?”

Wearily, Jacobson replied, “If you want to put it that way, yes, Cherie, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But there’s really something much more serious to consider here, specifically, a question that we’ve all been avoiding – namely, ‘if our guest can get us to the comet, what might she be able to do to help Earth, without the burden of helping us‘. Any ideas on that front, Karéin?”

He fixed a steady, serious gaze on the alien.

I do not know what you mean, Captain Jacobson, sir,” evaded the Storied Watcher.

Try to free your mind of the need to help us,” Jacobson demanded. “Assume that we’ll be alright, whatever you do or don’t do, for us.”

But that is not true, sir,” she protested. “They mean to take away your air.”

Just humor me,” Jacobson said, stoically. “If you didn’t have to worry about us, what would your suggested course of action be?”

Desperately, the alien looked from person to person, for some indication of objection, of common cause. But they all stared blankly back, caught between the urge for self-preservation and the larger goal of Earth’s survival.

Finally, she offered, unenthusiastically, “I have not given that a lot of thought, sir, because I so much want to help you and your crew – my family, my only family, now. But if you press me, I guess… I suppose… I could fly to the comet and guide the new Earth ship to its goal, protect them from the local radiation and debris field hazards, maybe even help them place their nuclear bombs by blasting some deep holes in the comet’s crust… help them to get away, safely…”

White interrupted, “Man, what I wouldn’t give to see the look on those guys’ faces, when they’re approachin’ that damn thing and they get a knock on the outside door, then they see her floatin’ around without a space suit, with a big ‘let me in’ sign on her.”

Chuckling, Boyd added, “Yeah, now that would be a regular Kodak moment, wouldn’t it?”

Seeing the girl’s confused look, he explained, “That’s an expression that means, ‘a scene worth capturing with a photograph’, Karéin.”

It would not be,” complained the Storied Watcher, “Because I would only be thinking of all of you.”

But,” said Tanaka, “In so doing, you might be saving all of Earth. Are the needs of a few like us, more important than those of an entire planet, an entire species?”

The Mars-girl now looked like a trapped animal.

Jacobson said, “I seem to remember you telling us of another time when you had a choice like this to make, Karéin. The last blue planet, wasn’t it?”

Glowering, the girl retorted, “I hope that you do not take offense, that you understand that I speak these words with respect – but you speak falsely, Captain Sam Jacobson! You do not know what transpired there; to the extent that I remember it, that situation was… hopeless. This one, is not. There must be a way both to save Earth, and to save you. It is my task to find that way. If, my poor powers can help your planet, at all. That is a very big assumption, not one that I am willing to make.”

Hey, I got an idea,” voiced White. “Y’all say it’s, like, shootin’ the moon – excuse the joke, please – for Karéin here to drag us over to the comet, because this here crate’s ‘spoken for’. Why doesn’t she just drag the new ship over to us, load us all on it, then get us back there to blow the comet up? We’d have more people to do the Salvador Two mission, all the air we’re ever gonna get and it’d be easier coping with the speedup factor, if we were strapped into those nice comfy seats that NASA sets everybody up with. We could get a commlink fix on them from here, two-way, then when she gets there, they could just tell her to ride the beam back to us. Piece of cake for me to rig up. Whaddya say, Captain?”

He heard a little, soundless voice in the back of his head say, Thank you, Devon, from the bottom of my heart, I owe you much for saying that.

Brilliant,” chimed Tanaka. “Two birds and one comet, with one stone.”

Thanks, Professor,” said White. “Y’all think I deserve a raise?”

Three no trump,” joked Boyd. “There’s a raise for you.”

That is the ‘bridge’ game, played with cards, is it not?” asked the Storied Watcher. “I started studying it on the network because it seems very popular, second only to chess, which the Captain said I could not play because…”

While the banter went on, Jacobson looked as if he was torn between two masters. At length, he said, jumping in to the conversation, “Moving right along, team, I hate to be the one to kill a beautiful theory with an ugly set of facts, but there are two issues with this plan that you haven’t pointed out.”

Such as?” asked an again-disappointed Boyd.

First of all,” explained the ship commander, “We’d be interfering with a critical NASA and Earth mission, potentially the most important space expedition in human history – considering the consequences of success or failure – completely without permission. Needless to say, doing so would be the most serious type of insubordination imaginable.”

Why don’t we just ask them for permission?” inquired Tanaka.

That’s certainly possible,” answered Jacobson, “But think of what we’d be proposing – here, I’ll try to enunciate it: ‘Hello, Houston, we’d like to propose that we have an alien from Mars fly over to the comet, completely without a ship or even a space suit and then drag – God knows how, that is, by what principle of physics – the Salvador Two ship over to the Eagle and Infinity, then have her drag Salvador Two, plus us, back to ‘Lucifer’, then have her protect us from the dangers that have destroyed three Earth ships, so we can blow up the comet. This must come as a surprise to you, Houston, considering that as far as you know, she’s just a kind of very old, somewhat naïve human girl. But trust us on this one, after all, it’s only the survival of our entire planet that would be jeopardized if she or we can’t deliver on any aspect of this plan, for example, she runs out of that Amai-whatever energy, halfway back to the comet.’ Sound good to you, Professor?”

Tanaka sulked while Boyd hung his head and muttered, “Does sound like a bit of a stretch, to me, Captain. But look on the bright side of it. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they’ll believe that she’s even capable of flying around out there, by herself, so how can they say ‘no’ to a plan that has no chance of even being started?”

By the same logic, Major Boyd,” said Chkalov, “How could they say ‘yes’?”

I recorded quite a bit of her first trip outside the ship,” commented White. “How are they gonna ignore hard evidence like that?”

Easy,” replied Tanaka, sourly. “They’ll just conclude that we’re all suffering from collective psychosis, caused by the stress of the ‘Lucifer’ situation and by long-term confinement in here, with each other. But, okay, let’s suppose that somehow we can convince them that we’re not kidding when we say we have a semi-godly alien on board with us. Sam, you had another problem with Devon’s idea? Do tell us…?”

Very much so,” Jacobson said. “Devon, no slight here, but you also made another big assumption – namely, that Karéin can even do this.”

Looking at the girl, he added, in a friendly, paternal voice, “Well? How godly are we feeling today, Karéin?”

The Storied Watcher rose to her feet, paced around a bit and stood, facing away from all of them.

Not very, Captain, sir,” she said, meekly. “Oh, I wish I could explain to you, in terms you would understand, how my powers work, what their limitations are, how it feels to use them – then you would not be guessing, when we have discussions like this.”

The alien woman turned to face them. “It is like this,” she said.

Her eyes flashed for a second and focused on Jacobson. “I am doing this only because you are the heaviest of the crew, sir, do not be mad at me, oh-kay?”

Jacobson began to float upwards from his seat, involuntarily, despite the pseudo-gravity of the Infinity’s center core drum.

As you can see,” she explained, “I can use my control over the forces of gravity – actually, magnetism and the third, fourth and fifth forces as well, when necessary – to move objects around. When my powers are at full strength, I can do this to very large and heavy things, up to the size of a large boat or a mountain, perhaps – I do not remember exactly how large, but certainly the size of this space ship, or bigger…”

Jacobson gave her the ‘thumbs down’ signal and she obliged, returning him to his seat.

How about objects the size of a comet? How about pushing something like that, off its current course?” he asked, as he landed.

I considered that, sir,” explained the Storied Watcher. “As Professor Cherie Tanaka asked me the same question, some time ago. But it is huge. If I was fully recovered, if I had all my Amaiish-forces, I could try, but even then, I fear that I could at best nudge it. This is the thing that I said is hard to explain, a minute ago. When I am near to, or on, a heavenly body that has a lot of gravity of its own, I can use that power to affect other, smaller, objects in the vicinity – including myself, of course; that is how I ‘fly’, in space.

But in the case of the ‘Lucifer’ thing,” she elaborated, “I would be trying to use the object’s own gravity, to move itself. I have never tried to do this, nor have I ever tried to move something so big as the comet. Here is one way to describe it… it would be like one of you humans, swimming alongside a big ship in one of your oceans, trying to change its course by kicking your legs against the water. If you had enough time, I mean, weeks or months, you might indeed be able to send it a few hand-spreads in direction from the path that it had previously been on. But I fear that we do not have that kind of time, and we need more than a few hands-worth.”

Yeah, I see,” acknowledged Jacobson. “I know you well enough to know that you’d already have suggested doing something like that, if it was possible. But okay, if the comet itself is out of the question, we still have the issue of you physically getting to the Salvador Two ship, somehow finding it, somehow,” – he could not suppress a cynical laugh, while saying this – “Convincing them to let you grab hold of them, then dragging that ship here to the Eagle and Infinity, then going all the way back to the comet… and all of this in enough time for the Salvador Two‘s crew to have enough time to carry out their own mission, to completion. Feel up to that job, Karéin?”

The alien looked down, and the others noticed that she had picked up the Earth habit of kicking her feet at an imaginary target, while thinking.

I honestly do not know, sir,” she quietly offered. “I am reasonably sure that I could, as you say, ‘drag’ that space ship – or this one, for that matter – around in space, almost anywhere in this solar system; that part is easy, more or less. But what I cannot be sure of is, how fast I could go, therefore how much time it would take to get to the comet, back to here and then back to the comet, once again.”

Explain, please,” said Tanaka.

Cherie, more than most, you will appreciate what I am about to say,” elaborated the Mars-girl. “I can move very quickly when I am only bending gravity so as to move myself, or perhaps a small additional amount of mass, but a whole space ship… there would be no way to know, without just trying it. And the other problem is, slowing down and stopping. Again, this is not difficult if I am doing so near a planetary body, but we would be ‘dragging’ this Salvador Two ship as fast as possible to get it promptly here, but the Eagle and Infinity only have about the same amount of mass as is the thing that I would be transporting. So I would have to start applying, how you say, ‘braking forces’, much earlier in the trip, to avoid overshooting the rendez-vous point, altogether. Of course, it would not be so hard going back to the comet. I could anchor myself against it and stop almost whenever I wanted.”

Tanaka nodded, knowingly. “Yeah,” she said, “It’s not easy, that’s for sure. I could barely…” She stopped herself in mid-sentence.

Boyd and White shot suspicious glances to each other. Chkalov, meanwhile, seemed preoccupied with something showing up on a computer screen.

So,” offered Jacobson, philosophically, as he addressed the rest of them, “Let me amend my previous explanation of our plan, to Houston: ‘Oh, and by the way, NASA, we have no idea if, once Karéin here drags the Salvador Two away from this incredibly important mission, she’ll be able to get it back in time to complete the task. But, hey, we’re willing to risk the survival of everyone on Earth, just for the theoretical chance of saving our own skins…”

He shot them an acid look.

Sounds good to me,” muttered White, unconvincingly.

Captain,” interrupted Chkalov, “If this of any interest, I have been running some simulations on the computer, comparing Karéin’s last observed flight speed, when outside the Eagle and Infinity, to likely trajectories she could take to the comet and thence back to us.”

And?” asked Jacobson.

Of course, I did not incorporate the factor of the mass or weight of the Salvador Two ship, since I have no hard data on that… although I suppose, if I had to redo the simulation, I could assume that its configuration would be broadly comparable to that of the first set of Salvador spacecraft,” Chkalov explained. “In any event, what my calculations show is that Karéin could, indeed, make it to and from ‘Lucifer’, back to here, prior to us arriving at the ISS2 rendez-vous point, but not with much of margin for error. I suspect that this allowance would drop substantially, if she had to also move the Salvador Two ship, but by how much, I am not sure.”

Meaning, Sam,” interjected Tanaka, “That unless Karéin has learned to do the hundred million kilometer outer space dash in much less time than we have so far observed, knowing the speed at which Houston makes decisions, we’d have to make our proposal to them tout de suite, if we’re to have any chance of pulling this off.”

The Storied Watcher just smiled evasively, at this.

If we’re going to do that, anyway,” retorted Jacobson. “My point of view on the subject hasn’t changed.”

And if the Salvador Two is going to take off from Earth, on a schedule that suits Devon’s involved little scheme, here,” added Boyd. “What if they’re just not going to take off on time? You heard McPherson – they’re going to have to intercept the comet much closer to Earth than the first mission did. That implies that they won’t be taking off until later, at least, that’s how it looks to me. And he said that it might take weeks. That would certainly put it out of the question.”

Point very well taken,” agreed Jacobson. “As matters stand now, I won’t veto this plan, but only because I’ll leave that honor to Houston. For the record, though, I don’t support it – the risks are just too high… ladies and gentlemen, oh, and, aliens, too, we have a higher duty here, one that transcends our own understandable instinct for self-preservation.”

But can’t we at least ask Houston?” pleaded Tanaka. “The worst they can say is, ‘no’.”

Certainly,” replied Jacobson. “Although they could say, ‘no, and make that alien fly right over to us, now‘, too, Professor. One way or the other, we have a valid interest in knowing the exact lift-off time of the Salvador Two and its ETA to the comet. If it appears that the timing of this doesn’t completely rule out Devon’s plan, then, although, as I said, I’m not in favor of this idea, I will present it to Houston for their consideration. I should point out that my main reason for doing this is, the conversation that we just had, has convinced me of one thing: it would be very irresponsible, not to say treacherous, of us not to let Houston know what our guest is really capable of. With that knowledge, maybe they won’t approve of Devon’s plan, but perhaps they’ll think of something else. Perhaps.”

I don’t like where the idea is leading,” complained Tanaka, “But your logic is kind of inescapable, I guess, Sam.”

She looked at the Mars-girl. “Nobody wants to keep you here, more than I do, Karéin,” Tanaka said. “But the facts have changed, since the failure of the Earth missile attack. Sam is absolutely right. We should tell Earth what you’re capable of, then let the chips fall where they may.”

The alien just hung her head, avoiding their glance. Then she said, slowly, “First, I wanted to fly away from here, from shame; you ordered me back, and I obeyed. Now, someone may order me away from here, from you, and I must again obey, though I desperately do not want to. My wants and the needs of the people of Earth, are not very well co-ordinated, do you not think so, Captain, sir?”

Jacobson looked as if he appreciated her mood, and said, “I understand, Karéin, but let’s not pre-judge them; they’re good people, at heart, just a little pre-occupied and subject to factors that we can’t appreciate up here, that’s all. To make it easier, I’ll let you decide how to explain this to them. It’s up to you, yourself, to set expectations; and as a bit of friendly advice, I’d suggest that you tell them only what you think you can definitely commit to. I say that not just because I don’t want to put you at risk, Karéin, but also because, as we just discussed, if you can’t deliver on something that we try to have you do, you could end up making the situation worse, not better. Devon, can you get us ready to record a message to them? Let us know when Karéin can start speaking.”

Way to put her on the spot, there Cap’n,” interjected White. “But Karéin, just for the record, we all believe in you. Speak from the heart and y’all be fine.”

Thanks, Devon,” was all she said.