View Full Version : Island on the Edge of Forever

2009-Dec-01, 07:57 PM
This ispart one in the latest instllment of my personal science fiction series. It covers the events surrounding the launch of the USS Carl Sagan in 2036. The title is a reference to the Cosmos episode "On the Edge of Forever." In additon, many characters are also based on real people that I know.

As dawn broke over the Pacific Ocean, the air was filled with the sound of activity. The hum of heavy machinery was punctuated by the occasional warning of potential hazards by a seemingly omni-present voice reverberating off the solemn gray hulk of an oil rig converted into a rocket launching platform. On it stood something that would even make the mighty Saturn, Ares, and Soviet N-1 rockets look diminutive by comparison. Meanwhile, engineers swarmed the various catwalks and stairways in the structure surrounding the behemoth, known as the Ares-N (Nova). Perched on top of it was what was to become the flagship of Earth’s fleet of space exploration craft.

This ship, the USS Sagan XC-05 (X for experimental, naturally) was named for astronomer, astrophysicist, and author Carl Sagan, in memory of the fortieth anniversary of his passing. Before the ship had a name, it was referred to as the Boeing 3717-X Star Clipper, the successor to the Boeing 3707 Caravel. Construction on the ship began in 2033 and was completed in 2035. However, Congress withheld funding due to pressure from environmental groups that were against the further use of nuclear powered spacecraft. However, while making his bid for reelection , President Huynh (what is it with those people and the extra H’s after N’s, I may be odd but it’s always struck me as redundant, anyway, I digress and move back to the subject at hand) promised to authorize funding needed to put the Sagan in space. He gave this funding with one condition though, that a 3717 (he ended up with a 3727 though) would be put into service as the new executive space transport, NASA One. Doing so, he would not only be the first Asian American president, but also the first to have his own space ship.

However, all I saw was just a tiny speck close to the horizon. For the launch the space agency had sent me out to NASA’s Pacific Space Launch Facility to basically be a “tour guide” to several visiting dignitaries, chiefly, the President of the United States (no pressure, right?). Ol’ AF One, was scheduled to touch down at the airfield on Johnston Atoll at 9 o’clock sharp tomorrow morning and I had to make sure my standard issue gray flight suit was dry cleaned, pressed, and given a slight misting with Febreze to hide the ever present odor of sweat caused by the South Pacific heat.

For those who don’t know, my name is James Quirk ( actually my full name is Manfred James von Quirk), adoptive great grandson of test pilot James R. Quirk, pilot of the Lockheed XRA-1 as part of the US Army Air Force’s Operation Duct tape, an early American effort to put a man into space in 1947. Originally from Reno, Nevada, my family moved to Florida when I was in the 8th grade. I attended college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona. Entering the space program two years ago, I’ve already served a stint at NASA’s newest Moon base at Hadley Rille, a nice place, though not as tourist-friendly as Tranquility (It had a Hard Rock Café and Jimmy Buffet’s Beach House on the Moon, the Eagle’s Nest Bar was also quite nice). I’m scheduled to begin a tour on the USS Duct tape (Could they have named the ship the USS Quirk or something? stupid bureaucrats) in 2037 under Captain William Rogers.

Prior to dropping my suit off at the one place within a seven hundred mile radius that did dry-cleaning, I took out an old pair of high-power binoculars and surveyed the distant oil platform-turned- launch pad from the balcony on my apartment, regretting that I wasn’t able to get any closer. Noticing the time on the atomic clock (ironic since this used to be a nuclear test facility) that I had hanging on the wall, I rushed down stairs.
I was meeting a few friends for lunch at the local astronaut hangout, the Up and Atom Diner, which was within walking distance of the apartment complex. A few minutes later I stepped in the door of the place, and made my way to the table. Among the people there were veteran astronauts A. J. Hartman, who flew the last Orion mission in 2028 and Craig “Jay” Windley, who became legendary in his role in saving the Orion 27 mission from disaster and was also the first person to land on Mars twice. Also there was Dr. Kate Eaves, whom I had met previously while working at Hadley Rille. At the time, she was part of NASA’s Lunar Exo-Archaeology Program (LEAP) which performed expeditions to the landing sites of various lunar spacecraft, such as Apollo 15 at Hadley. Last I heard, she was being assigned to the Northrop-class USS Sally Ride. I pulled out a chair and sat down. Hartman reached a hand over and shook it heartily.

Windley, whom I had just met about three days prior, was giving me just the strangest look. Finally, he spoke up in his somewhat thick Bostonian accent.

“Hey Quirk, you look like a guy I flew Orion 22 with, you two any relation?”

I search for a moment and replied in a starkly opposite southern drawl “Nah, I don’t think so. Oddly enough, I do get that quite a bit.”

The TV in the restaurant was tuned to one of the US news stations. The station’s talking heads were discussing President Huynh’s order to use the fuel rod cannon on the Navy destroyer USS Alan Shepard ( a militarized version of NASA’s Northrop class) to destroy a Somalia pirate mother ship from space last week. Apparently, many people, including the UN thought that he had overstepped his boundaries. The story on next was about the upcoming launch of the USS Sagan.

Suddenly, one of the cooks in the back yelled, “Hey, there we are!” as a NASA animation of the Sagan appeared on the screen, followed by the new anchor giving a basic run down of the system and saying that it will be launched by an Ariane-N rocket. It was no news to anyone that this was a controversial project, namely its expense and the fact that it carried the largest nuclear rocket engine to date, never mind the fact that the area around the island was wildlife preserve (but so is the Cape). A reporter on the street interviewed people regarding their thoughts on the project.

The first interview was of a somewhat portly fellow wearing overalls and a camouflage John Deere hat and was, of course, from Alabama. Despite his looks, he was actually fairly supportive. Hartman smirked a bit, since he actually did live in Alabama for some time, including attending UNA for a teaching degree.

“Shoot, I may not agree with lobbin’ a big ol’ nuke like ‘at in to space, but I think this is gonna be awesome to see come together and re‘stablish the U-nited States’ dom’ nance in space. I think them boys out at NASA are doing fine job. In fact, my son-in-law did some work for this thing up at the Arsenal. ”

Next up was well-dressed woman with a somewhat holier-that-thou attitude that was less than impressed.

“I think that all of the trillions of dollars spent on the space program have been wasted. Think of all the poor that are starving because of a government chooses to feed a useless program instead of them. Not just the poor, but that money could to other things, like education, medical research, and green technologies…”

Suddenly Kate responded quite abruptly, “That woman is out of her mind, doesn’t she realize how much NASA has contributed to...”

“Calm down, Kate” I calmly interjected.

“Sorry, I get worked up over this sort of thing.” Kate replied.

“No harm done.”

Following the interview, the anchor came on TV again. Accompanying her was Steve Fuller, first human on Mars. He spoke for a while on his experiences then he offered a rebuttal to the latter interview.

“Though many criticize NASA as a waste, it has accomplished so much on so little money. In fact, the entire price of NASA of the course of 50 years was far less than what the government spent on the War on Terror in less than 8. Furthermore, the space program is one of the primary supporters of education. In addition, much of the technology developed for the exploration of space has made its way into everyday life here on earth. This includes a great deal of medical technology as well. Also, the computers you see today are a direct result of the effort to miniaturize computers so that they could fit inside the cramped Apollo vehicles. Finally, the space industry employs several million talented people, though many not directly at any given time, giving them an opportunity for a job and helping the economy.”

Kate folder her arms and leaned back in her seat.

”The launch is still on for Friday right?” I decided to change the subject.

“Yeah, 1:52 pm,” Hartman replied.

2009-Dec-01, 09:50 PM
I like the little side comments, on the President's name and then complaining about the bureaucrats.

2009-Dec-04, 10:02 PM
Great stuff! Now to have had a descendant of Proxmire be cured of a disease from space pharma developed aboard an orbital station.

2009-Dec-05, 05:15 AM
Sure enough, at 9 the next day, three Boeing C-22 blended wing body transports arrived at Johnston’s small airfield, accompanied by a pair of QF-21’s from the Hawaii Air National Guard. Two of them bore standard Air Force low-visibility grey, while the other bore the familiar blue and white scheme of Air Force One. Upon disembarking the plane, the president and first lady were doing their traditional “wave to the public” thing escorted by many black suited individuals. The press, of course, was eating it up.

When the procession passed my party, the president turned and looked in my direction and said inquisitively, “Do I know you from somewhere.”

I replied simply, “No, don’t worry, everybody says that.”

Up ahead, he and his entourage were meeting with some of the base personal and some guy in dark blue suit that I didn’t recognize that was shaking his hand. Suddenly, he douobled in pain.

“Sir, are you alright?” queried one of the secret service guys that was standing next to him.

“No I’m not all right! I just got shot,” the president snapped back in as the first lady gasped in horror as about twenty armed soldiers surrounded the president and his entourage.

“What? I didn’t here a gun…” the secret serviceman stopped as the president pulled aside his jacket showing a red circle of blood.

“Sir, we need to get you doctor”

“No kidding, could you hurry up with that? I don’t think it hit anything vital, but I’d like to be on the safe side and really like to not have to perform surgery on myself, again.”

Before long, an ambulance had arrived from the base’s hospital and the crowd fell deathly silent. The first thought on everyone’s mind was that it was a sniper hiding in one of nearby buildings with a silenced rifle. Following the incident every member of the crowd was questioned regarding whether they saw someone out of the ordinary, and the island’s security team was sent out to assist the Secret Service.

Flipping on the TV, I knew that the assassination attempt would be all over the news. Meanwhile, I was surfing the web when I decided to go over to watch the web cams that were focused on various points of the launch pad. I could have sworn I saw something move past it. At first, I thought it might be a bird or just a figment of my imagination. Then I saw something again, definitely not a bird, not quite sure what it was.

I whipped out my cell phone and called up Marcus Carson, the launch director for the flight.
“Hey Mark, I know it’s getting late, but you’re in the firing room, right?”
“Yeah, why”
“ I think there may an unauthorized person on the launch platform, pan the cameras around a bit. Tell me if you see anything.”
“Nothing, Jim… wait, wait, wait a minute. Okay, I see a dark shape moving along one of the catwalks, that’s it so far…”
Suddenly, I heard a light pop and jumped. The bar at the bottom of my computer stated that I had new message from Kate Eaves, I flipped over to where I had Facebook open.

“On the webcam page, there’s somebody or something walking around on the pad,” her message read.

“I’m on the phone with Marcus right now about it.” I replied.

“Just now, I saw it again. That is definitely a person.”

“Jim, I see him, too. I’m phoning security right now. “

I swear it couldn’t have been more than two minutes when a pair of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters screamed overhead. Moments later, the two choppers reached their destination. As soon as they hit something solid, security personnel began spilling out forming three teams of five. One of the helicopters took off to provide air support.

Suddenly Charles “Smoky” Behr, the second chopper’s pilot called out over the radio, “I’m picking up a human heat signature near the base of the rocket, team two, move in.”

As team two approached the subject, security chief Harry Ronson verbally confronted him saying, “You are under arrest for trespassing on United States federal gov…”

Suddenly, the subject started running toward towards the edge of the platform.

“Halt, I order you, halt!!” Ronson screamed as ran after him, leveling his laser rifle at the miscreant. It was too late; he had already jumped over the railing and into the ocean below. After a thorough search of the area, no trace of him or anyone else was found. It was if he had just vanished into thin air.

2009-Dec-05, 06:39 PM
Now that can't be good...

2010-Feb-20, 06:07 AM
While all of this was going on, the president had been taken to the base’s medical facility and was now recuperating from his injury. The next day, Jay, Hartman, Kate, and I had been asked to meet with president by the base administrator, who was also going to make an appearance. Before entering, the group was extensively scrutinized by security, not regular base security, but very large men in very black suits with a very not-so-sunny disposition. Fortunately, that ordeal ended quickly enough and we were ushered inside, to see him dressed in regular street clothes as opposed to the traditional black suit sitting in one of the chairs near the hospital bed with his wife.

“Greeting lady and gentlemen, what brings you here on such a fine morning?” He asked as he stood up and offered a hand to base administrator Tom Richards.

“We thought we’d just stop by and say ‘hi,’ you seem to be doing pretty good for a guy who got shot just yesterday.”

“Yeah, there’s a funny story about that. It turns out that I didn’t get hit by a silenced sniper round. The ‘bullet’ they pulled out of me was a small metal sphere, like the kind launched by standard compressed air rifle, it just barely broke the skin. It did hurt pretty bad though.”

“Wait, wait, wait, hold on, are you saying you got shot by a BB gun?” I interjected.

“You are quite right, my déjà-vu inducing friend. It looks like whoever did this was aiming more to distract than assassinate.”

“That would make sense considering the events of last night.”

“What happened last night?”

Richards jumped back into the conversation, “There was an intruder on the launch platform last night. Strangest thing too, no idea how he, I suppose, could have gotten on to it. The only ways to get out there would be by air or sea. In that case, we would have spotted them from a hundred miles out. I mean we have had people try to break in before but most of the time we’d just fly a couple of Firescouts out to intercept them. Most of the time they’d just turn and run when they saw the UAV’s. Occasionally we would have to fire a few warning shots. But this is just, well,odd.”

“That is rather odd, and rather unnerving as well. I mean, what if whoever was on the platform last night planted some sort of explosive device on the launch vehicle or the Sagan itself? If …”

“Sir, have realized that possibility and are currently at work inspecting every inch of the vehicle.”

“Good, nothing quite like a nuclear-fueled spacecraft landing on you to ruin your day.”

This was indeed a very real concern, especially following the launch of a Russian nuclear-powered supply craft destined for Mars last April failed to reach orbit and crashed, fortunately, in a remote region of the Gobi desert. The Chinese were not amused.

For the next two days, crews swarmed the launch facility, hard at work trying to find any sort of evidence of sabotage.

Meanwhile, I was back at my apartment catching up on a few episodes of some of my favorite TV series when I heard Led Zeppelins’ Immigrant Song emanating from my pocket.

“Hello! Kate?”

“I was running on the beach like normal, and something shiny caught my eye. You’ve got to get down here. I’m over near the Sea Dragon pens.”

2010-Feb-20, 06:46 PM
Curiouser and curiouser...

2010-Mar-08, 05:30 AM
Moments later, I ran down to the street trying to flag down Windley in a passing golf cart. At first he didn’t notice me at all. I yelled at him as loud as I could, but he apparently couldn’t hear me over some song he was unintelligibly crooning. Suddenly, I saw flick his head a bit and slam on his brakes. Wading through the dust cloud, I took a seat on the passenger side.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

“Sea Dragon pens. Kate. Found something. Tired.”

“ Calm down, I’ll get you there.”

“Thank (pant) you!”

A few minutes later Windley and I arrived at the Space X hangar and adjacent Sea Dragon pens.

“Hey Windley, these things look a lot bigger in person,” I said eyeballing one of the massive launch vehicles. There were currently three these giants moored at the island. Nearby, the control ship was looking rather serene at its dock.

“Quirk, what about this whole business with Kate?”

“Oh right.”

“Hey guys, what took you so long?” Kate exclaimed as Windley and I approached.

“Well, what do you have to show us?” Windley asked.

“This,” she said as pointed a blue suit jacked half-buried in the sand with something shiny protruding from the right sleeve, “Curiouser and curiouser. You know, this sounds like something from my X-Men fan fiction story, Into the Cosmos.”

“X-what?” I queried.

“Wait, you’ve never heard of the X-Men? You know, Professor Xavier and his school for gifted youngsters, leads a team of mutants who fight evil, they’re based in NYC, where I’m from by the way, still not ringing any bells?” Kate replied.

“I’ve heard of it.” Windley chimed in.

“You two are dead to me now.” Kate joked.“Anyway, I think we need to call security before we go and touch anything,” Kate said trying to get the conversation back on topic.

Suddenly an unfamiliar jet-black VSTOL cargo aircraft screamed overhead, flying in the direction of the launch platform.

“ You guys ever hear about the old black helicopter urban legends? I think I just saw one,” Windley said

“Yes and that’s a VSTOL”, I replied as the aircraft touched down on the launch platform.
“You think it’s the MIB?” he joked.

“That was just a movie.” Kate replied as a secret service detail arrived.

As soon as it had arrived, the aircraft took off. This time it was headed toward the United States to an undisclosed space port, where its cargo would then be flown to a top secret research lab at Hadley Rille as I would find out years later.

2010-Mar-08, 05:52 AM
Can I ask a simple question about the first three or four paragraphs? At first, it seems like you can see the engineers on the catwalks, and then suddenly you seem to be so far distant that you can only see a speck. Or are you suddenly switching from an omniscient point of view to a non-omniscient narrator?

2010-Mar-08, 05:56 AM
I see now that maybe you were using binoculars? But it's not clear, so I think I'd want to clarify that.

Also, I came across a passage saying "saving the Orion 27 mission from near disaster." Do you mean that he saved it from disaster, or that he saved it from a near disaster? I.e., it was going to be a near disaster, but he prevented it from being one.

2010-Mar-08, 07:33 AM
Another question. Not that I know much about it at all, but if the president of the US crumples in pain, would it be normal for a secret service agent to just ask if he was OK? I would assume it would send them into panic mode even if they didn't hear a sound.

2010-Mar-08, 05:55 PM
Woah, I had no idea there'd be an update so soon after I wrote to you.

I hope it's just that they don't like comics and not that X-Men isn't still being published in 2036.

2010-Mar-08, 06:33 PM
Can I ask a simple question about the first three or four paragraphs? At first, it seems like you can see the engineers on the catwalks, and then suddenly you seem to be so far distant that you can only see a speck. Or are you suddenly switching from an omniscient point of view to a non-omniscient narrator?

Yeah, I went from omniscent to non-omniscent.

2010-Mar-08, 06:34 PM
I see now that maybe you were using binoculars? But it's not clear, so I think I'd want to clarify that.

Also, I came across a passage saying "saving the Orion 27 mission from near disaster." Do you mean that he saved it from disaster, or that he saved it from a near disaster? I.e., it was going to be a near disaster, but he prevented it from being one.

The latter, I kind of dropped the ball on that one .

2010-Mar-08, 06:41 PM
Another question. Not that I know much about it at all, but if the president of the US crumples in pain, would it be normal for a secret service agent to just ask if he was OK? I would assume it would send them into panic mode even if they didn't hear a sound.

True, I guess "doubled over" might have been a more appropriate word choice.

2010-Mar-08, 06:54 PM
Woah, I had no idea there'd be an update so soon after I wrote to you.

I hope it's just that they don't like comics and not that X-Men isn't still being published in 2036.

Well, after getting the message, I thought I might as well. Also, X-men is still being published in 2036. Quirk and Windley just comic fans.

2010-Mar-08, 10:51 PM
Oh, I get it. Still pondering what the "Written in-story" aspect will mean for future developments in ItC, on the one hand, it would make sense for Kate to write that NASA took a path similar to the one that led to the events taking place here in her "present", on the other, she could be writing a "What if Constellation had been cancelled in 2010" alternate history story.

2010-May-09, 05:48 AM
As we stood and puzzled over our discovery, I noticed some footprints leading into the ocean, the farthest of course long washed away by the tides. I have a feeling I was not alone in noticing these because the secret service guys seemed to take an interest in them as well, even before I mentioned them. Suddenly, Led Zeppelin started blasting out of my pocket and I received a few dirty looks from the secret service guys, some of them seemed unusually jumpy.

“Hey, what’s going?” Hartmann sounded rather groggy on the other end.

“Oh nothing, Kate just stumbled onto a key piece of evidence that may help to solve this mystery.”

“Oh,” replied Hartmann “you guys and, uh, girl have all the fun. Also, I got an e-mail from Richards; he says that the launch is on for tomorrow.”

“Awesome!” I hung up a short time later.

“What was that about?” Windley had apparently taken and interest in the conversion.

“Good news, everyone! The launch is on for tomorrow.”

The next day, the four of us, resplendent in our light blue flight suits accompanied the president, the first lady, and about 30 other base staff and a small media contingent (the rest were at the Cape) on a viewing stand that had been set up for, well, viewing things.

“Excuse me, uh, Mrs. ,uh, Huynh?” I thought I might kill some time while waiting.

“Call me Li, Mrs. Huynh was my mother in law’s name.”

“Weren’t you with NASA at one time?”

“I was, flew to Mars on Orion 25, didn’t land though. I was actually in the same astronaut class as Windley, right Jay?”

“Sure was, class of ’19 good times. “

“I feel a little out of the loop here.” The president had just turned around, either because he was bored, too, or he thought that Windley and I were attempting to flirt with his wife. “Well, I may not be an astronaut, but I did some space medicine research back when I was still in the medical field. However, I do get on of these things as my personal ride in a few years, so, yeah.”

“I’m just getting him back from the times when he hangs around with his old friends from college.” Li shot a glance at her husband. Meanwhile, the launch director’s voice droned in and out from the loudspeakers.

“So I read on your Wikipedia page that you were an X-men fan?” Kate was attempting to redirect the conversation.

“Quirk’s never heard of the series.”

“Really? Well, I think we may have to educate him one of these days. I may catch heat from the news media, but I’ve got to have some fun every now and then.” As he spoke, a representative from NBC was trying to listen in.


Turning our attention away from idle conversation, our focus now was on the TV screen in front of the stand and the flyspeck off in the distance.


The excitement in the crowd was so thick, “you could cut it with a knife” as Neil Pert put it.

Soon, a halo of smoke was visible around the distant pad as the main engines started up. Then the 4 solid fuel boosters lit, slamming the huge contraption skyward. Up until this point, everything had been mostly silent except for the sound of talking and video from the TV’s. Now, it felt like a physical wall of sound had slammed into the spectators. Nearby, a cup of coffee had been shaken off onto the ground.

Before long, the vehicle was out of sight, leaving nothing behind but a pillar of smoke.

Stay Tuned! Eh....Posted!

2010-May-09, 07:41 PM
Very good! The humor felt natural, and it balenced the action out very nicely. (Kate choosing to ask the POTUS about X-Men at a rocket launch? I hope actual future me can be half as cool.)

The excitement in the crowd was so thick, “you could cut it with a knife” as Neil Pert put it.
"Countdown" reference = WIN.

Now you're the one reminding me that I should probably post the next ItC chapter... I'll go do that now.

2010-May-10, 03:39 AM
On the other side of the world at the Cape, a NASA-owned Lockheed L-4200B space transport was being prepped for launch. This particular craft, known by those who work with her as Challenger would be ferrying a crew of 24 to rendezvous with the Sagan at the International Space Station.

Since the general public was not allowed entrance at Johnston atoll, dedicated space fans headed out to Florida’s east coast; the four of us included. Hours prior, we had managed to catch an outgoing flight back to the mainland and boarded a pair of T-78’s at Edwards AFB. President and Dr. Huynh (they were both doctors, only he was medical, his wife had PhD’s in computer and mechanical engineering) expressed their regrets of not being able to make it out to the Cape. Just as well, the Maglev launches were nowhere near as spectacular as the Ares-N and Sea Dragon launches, but they still had a special charm to them. Unlike earlier, we were all dressed in street clothes. This was for two reasons: a) to blend in b) those things are wicked hot to wear. As I looked over at Windley, I had to chuckle. He always wore a hat to cover up his receding hair line. We can put a man on Mars, yet nothing could even come close to curbing the march of baldness across this poor man’s head. Off in the distance, Challenger was inching forward out of its hangar.

Before long, Challenger, piggybacked on a Lockheed satellite shuttle, came hurtling down its three-mile, Disney-designed Maglev track. Once the mothership had gathered enough speed to fire its ramjets, it lifted up off the track and into the air. On top of a nearby RV, a guy was enthusiastically waving an American flag and shouting like a mad man. Several people manned cameras, others cheered and applauded; we just stood there and smiled. Very little would these people know of what happened over the last few days…

“Captains Log, May 25, 2036: Today marks the beginning of the USS Carl Sagan’s shakedown cruise to Mars. On the way, every system and the crew will be put through its paces to ensure that they are ready for whatever the universe could throw at them. I’m not really one for flowery speeches, but I will say that I have absolute confidence in my crew and this ship to get any job done.”

“The engines are on-line captain.” Helmsman Roberts looked ahead, palms sweaty on the throttle.

“Mr. Roberts, take us out,” remarked Captain Askea, “short RCS bursts”.

“Aye sir.”

Slowly, the Sagan lurched forward, gathering speed.

“This is ISS Space Dock Control, we show you as being clear of space dock. Congratulations and have a safe journey.”

2010-May-11, 01:17 AM
Am I correct in assuming a T-78 is 3 times as good?

2010-May-11, 02:00 AM
Well, here's a drawing I did a while back (it was almost my CAD project from last semester).


It was designed by Scaled Composites and built by Northrop Grumman, like the T-38. (Of course I came up with it, that's just the in-universe story.)