Star Force One

Chapter Four: The Next Giant Leap

Ryan opened the door to the briefing room and stepped inside.

"Room!" Jake shouted and all of the assembled personnel fell silent and snapped to attention.

"Good morning team.  As you were," Ryan said as he took off his jacket and took the seat at the head of the table.

Jake, along with fellow youth astronauts Peter Durand, Brenda Thorn, Mark Andrews and James McDougal sat around the table.  Adult astronauts Lieutenant Robert Sullivan and Captain Georges Desmarais were there too.

"I am sure you are all anxious to learn why I have brought you all here this morning," Ryan said.  "I have good news for all of you.  The eight of us in this room make up the crew of the next comprehensive lunar mission."

The room erupted into cheers.

"We get to go to the moon?" James asked.

"We do indeed," Ryan replied.  "We will be flying the heavy shuttle Trillium carrying the long duration habitation facility, also known as the Hab Facility, from the cape to ISS 2.  We will dock and collect the lunar lander and orbital module of the Hab Facility and then transiting to the moon.  We will be making multiple landings on the moon in both remote locations and at the site of the International Lunar Outpost near the Tycho crater."

After the applause and happy chatter died down, Ryan continued.  "This mission will be the first operational, no-training or evaluation mission for you youth astronauts.  Crew assignment is as follows…. I will be serving as Mission Commander.  Robert, you will serve as chief flight engineer.  Georges, your role will be lunar lander pilot.  Peter, you are assigned to be the Chief Science Officer.  Brenda, your role will be to be the lunar lander co-pilot.  Mark, you will serve as the Communications Officer.  James, you are to be the EVA Team Lead.  Jake, you are Shuttle Pilot and Mission First Officer."

Once all the chatter died down again, Ryan continued, "We are going to head over to Orbiter Processing Facility Bay four and pay a visit to Trillium.  The Hab Facility was installed in the cargo bay last week."

The eight of them headed out into the crisp winter air and boarded a crew van, which whisked them over to the massive hangar known as the Orbiter Processing Facility.  The OPF was where shuttles were prepared for flight and processed following missions.

Inside Bay number four, stood the gleaming white and black shuttle Trillium.  It was based on the design of the American shuttles and built under license by Bombardier Aerospace.  On the outside, it looked pretty much the same as the U.S. shuttles did, but under the skin, it was a very different bird.

Trillium sat on its landing gear.  Its payload bay doors were open and a large gantry structure surrounded it.  Technicians worked on various areas of the vehicle prepping it for their upcoming mission.

The main hatch was open and Ryan led the astronauts up the stairs.

"You've all been inside a heavy orbiter before and you've all flown live or simulated missions on them so this is nothing new."  Ryan gestured to the inside of Trillium's mid-deck.  "This is something you have never seen before though," he said as he led them into the combined airlock and docking tunnel.

"Getting through here is much easier in Zero-G," Mark said.

"Getting around everywhere is easier in Zero-G," Brenda laughed.

One by one, they emerged on the other side of the airlock.

"Welcome to the LDHF…. Long Duration Habitation Facility," Ryan said. 

They were standing in the main compartment of a huge pressurized module that was longer and wider than a city bus.  It filled the entire cargo bay of the shuttle.

"This is cool," Jake observed.

"No kidding," James agreed.

"Home sweet home for the mission," Robert added.

"At least the orbital part," Georges replied.

The main compartment made up about half of the length of the Hab Facility.  It was a combination laboratory and living quarters.  Workstations, experiment racks and storage lockers lined the walls, floor and ceiling.  There were two large windows in the ceiling and a telescope mount.  At the far end, there was a hatchway.  They climbed through the hatchway and entered the storage compartment. 

"This is for storage of food and other supplies needed for a long mission," Ryan said.  With the LDHF, the shuttle can stay in orbit for more than three months with a full crew.

They crawled through the final hatchway to the crew quarters compartment.  Eight sleep stations and a hygiene station including space toilet lined the walls.

"This basically turns the shuttle into a mobile space station," Robert said.

"Pretty much," Ryan agreed.  "This is not all either."

They returned to the main compartment and Ryan called up a diagram on the main display screen.  "This is the orbital module that we will pick up at the new IIS 2 space station.  It attaches to the docking port and allows for the docking of a lunar lander module as well as a set of supplementary fuel tanks.  This gives the orbiter the capability to boost itself to the moon and back and gives us the ability to conduct landing operations."

After they finished touring the spacecraft, they returned to the conference room.  There was an excited hum in the air as Ryan stood up to speak.  "Now on a serious note.  Each of you are going to be spending a lot of time in the simulators leading up to this mission.  You are going to focus on your selected career tracks and you are going to face some very tough tests.  Study up, use your heads and you will get through it."

"If I had a dollar for every time they killed me in those simulators, I'd be rich," James said with a laugh.

"We kill you there so that you learn to stay alive in a real emergency," Ryan replied.  "Jake, James and Brenda, I'd like you three to remain behind.  The rest of you are dismissed."

Once everyone else had left the room, Ryan turned to the three left in the room. "You three are on the command fast-track.  You are all flight certified and you are all our top students in the youth astronaut program.  Out of 25 youth astronauts, you are 1, 2, and 3 in terms of test scores."

"Command fast track. I like sounds of that," Jake said.

"It is an honour, but it comes with a great deal of responsibility.  We have taught you how to be astronauts and you are all damn good at it.  Now we need to learn from you whether you have what it takes to command."

"You mean leadership skills?" Brenda asked.

"Partially yes, but there is more to it."

"Leading by example," Jake added.

"Definitely.  Being in command means making tough decisions with imperfect information.  In an emergency, it can mean throwing out the rulebook and making decisions on the spot to protect your crew and your vessel. You can seek advice from control or crewmembers, but it comes down to the commander to make the calls.  Crew always comes first, but there may come a day when you will have to give orders that you know are going to sacrifice one or more of your crew to save the rest."

The three young astronauts looked wide-eyed at Ryan.

"Have any of you not seen the old Star Trek movies?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, I have them on my tablet," Jake replied.

"I saw them," James added.

"Me too," Brenda replied.

"There are some lessons to be learned there.  They had something the called the Kobayashi Maru Test.  It was a crucial test of prospective captains.  They were put into a no-win situation to see how they would handle it."

"That's not fair if you have no way of passing the test," Jake said.

"Nobody passes it," Ryan replied.  "That is the point. We are going to have a similar test for each of you.  It will come when you don't expect it and how you respond to it will be critical to your development as future commanders."

Jake's Kobayashi Maru Test came about two weeks later during a simulator run of a rendezvous and docking of the lunar lander craft with the Trillium shuttle.  Jake was in command of the Trillium shuttle, Robert was in the pilot seat.  Ryan, Brenda, and Georges were in the lunar lander simulator and were returning to the shuttle from a lunar landing near the moon's South Pole.

"Trillium shuttle, this is trillium lander 1, we have lunar lift-off," Georges said into the radio.

"Roger lunar lander, we copy.  You are off the surface." Mark replied.

"Robert, check our alignment for interception and docking."

"Roger, checking alignment," Robert replied.

"Jake, they are on bingo oxygen with about four hours left.  We need to intercept and capture as soon as we can." James said.

"Trillium, this is Trillium actual.  We have a course divergence," Ryan said.

"Copy that Trillium actual.  What is the nature of the divergence?" Mark replied.

"Trillium shuttle, the main engine should have begun to throttle down but it has not done so.  Georges is taking manual control."

"Keep us advised," Jake replied.

"Trillium shuttle, Trillium actual, we have a runaway engine.  Repeat we have a runaway engine, engine is throttling out of control."

"Can you shut it down?" Jake asked.


"Negative and we do not have a stable orbit."


"Jake. They are approaching lunar orbit escape velocity," James said urgently.


There was a large jolt and most of the lights and displays went out in the lander.  The master alarm began to sound as the spacecraft began to lurch around.


"Trillium shuttle, Trillium actual, we have total engine failure.  Main engine went over-pressure and exploded.  We have no RCS control and are tumbling.  We have exceeded escape velocity and heading out of lunar orbit north of the orbital plane."


"Robert, plot an emergency intercept course," Jake said urgently.


"Jake an intercept course is going to be incredibly dangerous.  We will have to subject the structure of the spacecraft to a much higher G load than tolerances allow and it will exhaust a large amount of our fuel."


"James check our fuel situation," Jake said urgently.


A moment later James replied, "I'm afraid Robert is right.  The prime intercept course would exhaust our fuel and not leave us with enough to make it back to Earth even if the G-loading did not rip apart the structure."


Jake looked crestfallen.


"Trillium, this is Trillium actual.  We have multiple system failures and we are tumbling out of control.  Electrical and life support are failing, no propulsion, no RCS jets, computer is offline and the structural integrity of the spacecraft is in doubt.  We are in a highly eccentric solar orbit."


"Jake we need a decision.  Intercept course is punched in and I am standing by.  What are your orders?" Robert asked.


"Get me mission control," Jake said.


"We are on the far side.  It's up to you, commander," Mark replied.


Jake paused for a moment.  "Robert, prepare the shuttle for Earth return.  The lander is lost and we can do nothing for those on board."


"We can't leave them in space!" Brenda shouted.


"We have no choice.  They die and we live or we all die."


"Trillium actual, this is Trillium shuttle."


"Go ahead Trillium shuttle."


"We've run the numbers.  We can't get to you without putting the spacecraft and entire crew at a great deal of risk of almost certain loss. I am assuming command responsibility for the mission and ordering a return to Earth as soon as practical.  We will stay with you as long as we can."


There was a long pause.  "It's the right call Jake," Ryan said.  "Terminate simulation."


The lights came on inside the simulator and the door opened.  Ryan was about to step in when Jake sprinted past him and headed straight for the washroom.


Ryan entered the washroom a minute behind Jake and saw the boy leaning over the toilet and vomiting.


Ryan sub-consciously changed from commander to Dad and knelt down beside Jake.  He reached out and gently massaged Jake's shoulders.


The tearful boy responded immediately, he turned and hugged Ryan fiercely.  Clinging to him like a drowning man.  "That was too real."  He stammered.


"I know son.  It had to be real though.  We had to know that you would make the right call and you did.  Being a commander means making the difficult choices when they need to be made.  You are going to command missions son and one day you could be faced with a real life and death decision.  Space travel is dangerous."


"Why did it have to be you who was lost?"


"We have a team of psychologists who designed each test to target each cadet for the most emotional impact.  It had to be realistic and it had to be painful for it to be useful."


"Sucks though," Jake, added.


"It does, but you passed kiddo.  You made me proud."


Jake squeezed him tighter for a moment and then let go.


Ryan handed him a tissue to dry his eyes and clean himself up and then the two of them returned to the simulator bay.


The next few months were spent mostly in the simulators training for the mission.  As the launch date approached, the crew were working together as a cohesive unit and they were able to tackle any surprise scenarios that came up.  One of the last training components prepared Jake for handling abort scenarios.  He would be launching in the pilot seat and would have to assist Ryan in getting the shuttle down safely in case of an emergency during launch requiring that they abort the takeoff.


On the flight deck of the simulator, Ryan was in the left seat - the captain's seat, Jake was in the right seat – the pilot's seat.  Robert was in the Mission specialist one position behind Jake and Mark was in the Mission Specialist Two seat behind Ryan.


"Trillium, you are looking good a T plus six minutes.  Negative return, abort mode TAL, press to Heathrow."


"Roger that control, abort mode to Trans-Atlantic press to Heathrow," Jake replied.


A few seconds later, the master caution light lit up on the main control panel and an alarm began to sound.


"Ryan, we just lost engine number three," Robert said urgently.


"Control, this is Trillium, we show a number three engine shutdown, can you confirm?"


"Roger Trillium, we show engine three premature shutdown, you are losing velocity and we recommend you initiate TAL abort."


"Copy that," Ryan replied.


"Jake initiate TAL abort sequence."


"TAL abort sequence initiated," Jake, replied.  "Computer is adjusting heading and attitude."


"Expect roll over in 30 seconds," Robert added.


The orbiter was flying heads down and the computer would roll it over to a heads-up position in preparation for re-entry.


"Trillium, be advised, we are in contact with Heathrow and they are closing down operations and opening an approach corridor for you.  We are uploading the data to your computers now."


"ET separation in 1 minute," Robert announced. 


"Arming ET separation sequence," Jake replied.


The crew was doing a great job of taking care of the routing operations allowing Ryan to focus on flying the shuttle.


A moment later, there was a thud from below as the External Tank dropped away and once again, the shuttle was a glider.  The Atlantic Ocean lay below them and far ahead was the United Kingdom and their emergency destination, Heathrow International Airport.


"Looking good commander, you are right on course," Jake said.


"Commander, we have lost comms," Mark announced from the rear of the cabin.


"Is that due to a failure or was it expected?"


"Comms are non-functional," he replied.


Ryan felt a weight in the pit of his stomach.  This was one of those sims where they were going to hurl repeated failures at them.  "Roger that Mark.  Do what you can, try power cycling, run diagnostics."


"Commander, Flight Computer One has dropped offline and is non-responsive.  Flight Computer 2 is now primary.  We also see reactor power fluctuations.  They may be causing power spikes and frying equipment."


"Roger that Robert, scram the reactor and put us on emergency power."


"Copy that commander, scramming main reactor. We are now on reserve batteries."


"Isolate the reactor with full containment in case of a leak.  Jettison it if you see any sign of a meltdown."


The simulator suddenly banked hard to the left.  "What's happening? The control surfaces are mushy," Ryan said.


"Commander, we are losing hydraulic pressure. Robert observed."


"Shit," Ryan observed.  "Jake begin preps to abandon ship."


"Yes sir," Jake replied.  He began the process of prepping the spacecraft for the crew to bail out once at a safe altitude and velocity.


"Robert, hold the reserve hydraulic system until we absolutely need it.  Start the primary and second auxiliary power units and change the hydraulic flow to secondary lines."  In case of a leak in a primary line, the hydraulic system had a full secondary set of lines.


"FIRE WARNING – AFT SUPERSTRUCTURE!"  Jake called out.  "Activating fire suppression in engine Bays 1 and 3 and OMS pod 1."


"Hydraulics have stabilized," Robert announced.


"Commander, we have smoke in the Cockpit," Brenda called from the mid-decks.


"All crew, lock and seal your visors, go on internal oxygen," Ryan ordered.


"Aft fire extinguished, we show overheat in avionics bay.  My guess is wiring damaged by the reactor spikes," Robert observed.


"Activate fire suppression and shut down all unnecessary systems"


Robert and Jake went to work shutting down systems and disengaging breaker switches wherever possible,


"Computers are offline Ryan, you are flying manual," Robert said.


"Jake, take the controls with me and follow my lead.  Robert. Cycle the breakers and try to get at least one of the computers back.  Monitor the hydraulics."


Outside the simulator windows, Ryan and Jake could see expected landmarks.  They were passing over the North Atlantic south of Ireland and heading for the west coast of the UK.


"Captain mid-deck crew is ready to bail out on your orders," Brenda called up.


"Sit tight Brenda, we're not done yet," Ryan replied.


"Feet dry," Jake called out as the orbiter passed over the coast.


"How are my hydraulics?" Ryan asked Robert.


"Both systems are online and nominal on backup lines.  Backup system is on standby."


"Heathrow approach, this is Trillium shuttle in the dark, repeat in the dark, we are lining up for manual approach clear the pattern,"  Mark said into the radio with no response.  He repeated the message several times.


"We are subsonic," Jake announced.


Ryan saw the runway ahead and began to make adjustments to their approach.  They appeared to be lined up perfectly.


"We are at 10,000 feet, descending at 200 fps.  On track," Jake called out.


"Go with pre-flare," Ryan announced and pulled back the main control column.  Just as he pulled the nose up there was a loud bang from the aft section.


"PRIMARY HYDRAULIC FAILURE!" Robert called out.  Activating secondary."


"Gear down!" Ryan called.


Instead of pulling the normal lever, Jake punched the emergency gear down panel and hit the button.  There was a clunk from below as the gear lowered and locked.


"50 feet, 40, 30, 20…main gear down.  Blowing the chute!" Jake called out.


"Nose gear down, full brakes," Ryan said.


"Wheel stop!" Jake replied a moment later.  We did it!"


The crew broke into loud cheers as they all unstrapped and exited the simulator.


"I'll bet that has to be a new record for the most failures while still landing safely!" Ryan observed.


They all climbed out of the simulator and found the simulator operators standing in a group laughing and applauding.


"That was supposed to be an April Fool's joke!" Roger Caulfield, the director of simulation training said with a laugh.  "We never figured you would land it!"


"If my dad can't land it, it can't be landed," Jake said proudly.


"Glad you were in the right-hand seat kiddo," Ryan replied proudly.


That evening, Jake was in a thoughtful mood as they drove home.


"You were really cool under pressure today, Dad."


"Training and practice, kiddo," Ryan replied.  "You did very well in the co-pilot seat with me.   We made a great team."


"Hard to believe that in about six months we will be on our way to the moon.  With Otis too!"


"Going to be a hell of a mission."


"Brenda and Julie are flying on their micro-shuttle mission tomorrow," Jake said.  "Is that the first ever all-female crew?"


"It is a far as I know," Ryan replied, "and I think Brenda has her eye on you!"


Jake blushed deeply.  "I know.  It drives me crazy sometimes, but I kinda like it too."


Ryan smiled.  "You are at that age where boys start to notice girls."


"Not all boys though," Jake said.  "Can you keep a secret and promise that if I tell you something, it won't get anyone in trouble?"


Ryan glanced over at Jake.  "I have my dad hat on at the moment.  I promise."


"Peter came out to me the other day.  He likes boys.  He wants to make it public, but he's afraid of what might happen."


"That's ok kiddo.  This is not the 1980's anymore.  I have no problem with that and I'll have a big problem with anyone who does." Ryan said firmly.


"Thanks Dad," Jake replied, "I knew I could depend on you."


"So can Peter," Ryan replied.  "All of you can depend on me,"


The next morning, they were back at the cape for Brenda's launch.  Jake sat in an office chair leaning back comfortably in front of the CAPCOM console.


"Voyager. CAPCOM, radio check over," Jake called into his headset.


"CAPCOM, Voyager, copy your radio check, over," Brenda replied.


"Flight, Surgeon."


"Go ahead Surgeon," the flight director replied.


"CDR is showing an elevated heart rate.  Nothing out of the ordinary but it would be good to get her to relax."


"Brenda, the doc is not liking his readings on your ticker.  Any chance you can try some relaxation techniques for me? Jake said into his headset.  "Dinner is on me when you get back, if you can get those numbers down."  He immediately felt his face flush when he realized he had just asked her out in front of possibly millions of people.


"CAPCOM, are you asking me out of a date?" Brenda laughed.


"I guess," Jake replied sheepishly.


'Flight, Surgeon."


"Go ahead Surgeon"


"Looking better.  Maybe I had better check the CAPCOM's pulse though," he laughed.


Jake turned beet red. 


"I accept," Brenda replied.


Mission control broke into loud applause and Jake, still blushing deeply stood up and took a bow.


As the countdown neared its end, the flight director polled the controllers.  When all responded in the positive he turned to Jake.  "Tell them we are go for launch."


"Voyager, you are go for launch.  Have a great flight and enjoy the ride."  A moment later the micro-shuttle Voyager's main engine roared to life and the trim, sporty spacecraft leapt off the pad.  As Jake watched it accelerate, he grinned thinking about the effect that launch always had on him and wondered if it had any sort of similar effect on Brenda.


A couple of hours later Jake finished his shift as CAPCOM and headed back to the crew quarters.


He was walking past the door to the common washroom when he heard a scuffle going on inside.


"If you like sucking cock so much then suck this one," a sneering voice said.


"Fuck you!" came the reply – Jake recognized the voice as that of Peter Durand and it was coming from the Shower area., 


There was a slapping sound followed by a cry of pain.  Jake hurried into the common area and selected a large towel, which he soaked with water and partially wrung out before wrapping it around his hand like a whip.  He then turned the corner into the common shower area.  An older cadet that Jake recognized as an unflown candidate named Chad Roberts stood in front of Peter who was also nude and held down in a kneeling position on the floor with blood tricking from the corner of his mouth.  Chad's erect penis was bobbing in front of Peter's face.  To Jake's astonishment, also stood Captain Traxler, also nude. Jake had had a previous run-in with Traxler over his exam results and already disliked the man.

Before anyone could react, Jake took action.  He swung the wet towel like a whip with accuracy that Indiana Jones would have envied.  The end of the towel made contact with Chad's penis with a loud crack.  The boy screamed like a Banshee and grabbed his rapidly deflating organ before seeming to dance an odd jig before falling to the floor.


Jake pivoted and swung the towel again bringing it right up between Traxler's legs and slamming into his testicles.  Traxler shrieked and dropped to the floor unable to catch his breath.


Once Jake saw that both attackers had been subdued, he helped Peter to his feet.  "It's ok man, I've got you."  He helped the bleeding and astonished boy into the other room and handed him a towel to cover himself up.


"Jake," Peter said.  "Jake, they were trying to force me to do stuff."


"It's ok.  They're finished.  When my dad gets through with them they will wish they had never been born."


Jake grabbed the phone off the wall and called - first the military police and then his dad.


"Jake, you did the right thing. I'll be right there," Ryan told him.

Ryan and two red-beret clad MPs arrived in less than two minutes.


The first MP separated Jake and Peter and took their statements while the second made contact with Chad and Traxler.  He emerged a few minutes later and called for a base ambulance.  "You did that with a towel?" He asked Jake.  "Fucking hard core, man."

It did not take long for it to become clear what had happed.  Peter had simply gone to take a shower and he had been set upon by Chad and Traxler who used homophobic slurs against him and then attempted to sexually assault him.  Jake had arrived in just the nick of time and broke up the little party before it could get started.

Both Chad and Traxler left handcuffed to hospital gurneys under arrest and facing serious charges. 

Ryan stood over Traxler's gurney and glared at him.  "You are a disgrace to the uniform and you are a pathetic excuse of a man.  You make me sick.  You are finished.  Before you can say Jack Shit, I will have you cashiered and drummed out of this service with disgrace."

"Fucking kid broke my balls!" Traxler wailed.

"He deserves a medal for it too," Ryan replied.  "With any luck, you'll be unable to propagate your pathetic genes."

With that, Ryan turned away and focused his anger on Chad.

"You are as pathetic as that piece of shit.  You are done here too.  How pathetic is that – you never even qualified for a flight and now you've drummed out and facing sexual assault charges."

"Pretty boy busted me up."

"Good.  Here's something to think about…. you are going to jail.  No doubt about that.  You will be behind bars as soon as the hospital is done patching up that pathetic little pecker of yours, you will be off to the local youth detention facility.  Those guys in there read the papers and see the news…. they'll know what you are in for and you are going to be the belle of the ball.  You're going to pull the train in that place and be passed around like an old nudie magazine."

Jake sat next to Peter with his arm around his shoulders.  "Dad, can Peter come home with us tonight?"

"That's' a good idea.  Do you want to come to our house kiddo?"

"I'd like that," Peter replied.

They arrived at Jake and Ryan's house a little over an hour later.  Otis immediately sensed the emotional tone and he latched himself onto Peter.  Later that night he even slept on the spare bed as if to comfort the boy.

With the boys in bed for the night, Ryan poured himself a glass of Crown Royal whisky and sat behind his desk.  He'd have to deal with this incident in the morning with the other cadets and he had to think long and hard about how to do it.  He knew the others looked up to and admired Jake and that they would follow his lead.  That would be helpful. 

He also worried that perhaps Traxler had other victims.

Disclaimer: The Kobayashi Maru is from: "Star Trek", Copyright © Paramount Pictures 

If you like my story, drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you: Scribe 1971