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The Salt Of Tranquility
By Gery Sidney Cottam Beth A. Cottam
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Beth A. Cottam
All right reserved.
The atmosphere was cold and humid as moisture drained through his cocoon shaped casing. Tyler's lungs ached and he found himself challenged to employ restraint. He must be patient, taking in only small shallow breaths as displaced chilly water drained away and oxygenized air entered the capsule.
Below him was the blackness from unknown fathoms of lunar depth. He and his cocoon rose ever so slowly up towards the moon's surface. With a sharp painful gasp, air continued to fill his lungs and his heart beat wildly in his chest. Independent of Tyler's own will his muscles started to contract, following a crescendo of powerful electric rhythmic pulses.
Tyler struggled to move his arms and legs. Slowly and stiffly they transitioned from being numb and unresponsive to full functionality. His senses continued to awaken, hearing a hissing sound, as strong aromatic scents assaulted his sinuses shooting pain throughout his head. It was the kind of a dull headache he associated with drinking icy lemon slush too fast.
A pulsating blur slowly came into focus identifying a red light flashing brightly above his face. Tyler managed to peer through heavy eye lids opened just enough to perceive the pulsating red light; then, his eyes started to blink and his visual clarity improved until he could see clearly.
The voice command instructed him to push the red flashing button. It was an understandable voice, soothing and feminine. His awareness increased and Tyler realized the voice originated from a speaker at the top of a clear covered capsule in which he was laying. Gradually he willed his fingers to rise toward the red flashing knob. With an audible click, he depressed the button. Red changed to green and Tyler could tell a series of events had been set into motion. Lights outside the capsule brightened and he could feel the vibration of machinery.
The calm feminine voice returned, reassuring Tyler that all was well and it was time to awaken. The sign above the control console read, "Lunar Mining Inc."
Tyler's position adjusted automatically and he was now seated before a computer screen staring at a menu of operations listed in bright multi-colored columns. The flashing column indicated the nuclear reactor was 15, then 59, and then offered a final reading of 95% depletion. A look of confusion crossed his face. Tyler knew that reading was not likely because the reactor had a useful life of over 10,000 years. He began a series of cross checks to determine where the malfunction had occurred. The mission clock seemed to be on the blink as well because the date indicated it was July 11, 1076; 13:03 Greenwich time.
Another date on the mission clock recorded his capsule had achieved a maximum lunar depth of 3760 on February 2, 2032, about 20 months into his mission. That was his correct target depth and he remembered the anticipated date was the same day Punxsutawney Phil offered his weather prediction.
The wake up procedure called for administration of a post hibernation drink formula to relieve dehydration and jump start the digestive system. Tyler selected a plastic packet set that said, "Chicken Soup." By squeezing both liquid filled packet ends he broke the seals and introduced the liquids into the central mixing compartment containing a dry powder. The result was a bland substance resembling neither food nor medicine. It would be thirty-six to forty-eight hours until his system would be ready for solid food.
While consuming the mixture his mind wandered into day dream mode ... In two weeks he'd be back on earth eating barbecued ribs and drinking cola in an all you can eat feeding frenzy at the Western Family Steak Pit. It would be wonderful, and the ice-cream, don't forget the ice-cream! "Let's see," he uttered with a strained dry sounding voice, "chocolate banana pecan would be deluxe. And as long as I'm dreaming and have money in my pocket, I could ask Jill Sorensen to join me," he thought enthusiastically.
Jill was a member of Tyler's mining class. It had been a large group of 100. The fact that she had graduated a few steps higher at number thirty-two did not bother Tyler because she was pretty, intelligent, and very quick. Jill was easy to be with, had a warm friendly manner, and beautiful eyes. Yes, he sighed, and then contemplated again; they were wide set beautiful blue eyes. Her shoulder length hair was light brown. Jill stood five foot five and looked to weigh no more than one hundred thirty pounds.
At the company training school in Antarctica, she had been very friendly and helpful to Tyler. Jill even tutored him in his weakest subject, "Theory and Mathematics of Moonsalt Mineralogy." As they talked and studied together, Tyler developed caring feelings toward her. He was surprised at how much she entered his thoughts and he looked forward to simply being around her. The trouble was that she was just as nice and friendly to a host of other classmates. As a consequence, Tyler was reluctant to try and take the next step in his association with her for fear of rejection. Unless he risked asking her out or having a more personal conversation, she wouldn't realize his aspirations for a closer relationship.
Tyler realized he had become distracted and regained full awareness of his surroundings, refocusing his attention on the problems at hand. Day dreaming could be dangerous located one hundred meters below the lunar surface in a semi-autonomous mining machine. They referred to the hibernation apparatus he signed on to spend two years in as, a "worm."
Mining worms had three individual module units. The first worm section was a drilling machine whose diamond impregnated ceramic blades could burrow through solid rock. It possessed sophisticated sensors to detect and collect the valued moonsalts. Some of these sensors used magnetic anomaly and chemical analyzers to track the crystal mineral veins. Each module was cylindrical, ten meters long and four meters in diameter. Each cylinder had four caterpillar tracks that were eight meters in length, set ninety degrees apart around the cylinder's circumference.
The second worm section housed the nuclear power reactor and the adjoined electrical production unit. That module initially collected the mineral salts, and then through a large flexible joint conveyor tube, transported the salts to the Command Module.
The third worm unit, the Command Module, was functionally divided into three compartments within the same capsulated unit. A small section of the Command Module unit was home to the control consoles and life support for its human operator. The middle 80% of the unit was devoted to the storage and transportation of mineral salts. The end section contained a rocket engine for transportation off the lunar surface.
The Command Module unit of the mining worm commuted between the moon and Moon Station Armstrong. The first and second units of the mining worm remained lunar based. Once detached, they stayed behind for future mining missions. All three modules were linked together by flexible joints, circumspectly shielding power cables, control cables, and mineral transfer tubes.
Tyler likened himself to a sailor on a submarine, isolated, enclosed and self contained. He was submerged under the lunar landscape instead of water, and his voyage lasted two years instead of six months.
His job was to set up and monitor the first few days of the mining dive, fine tune the mining sensors, and check out the communications system linking mining worm # 34 to Central Lunar Module Signaling, located in the orbiting Moon Station Armstrong.
Each caterpillar drive had its own individual powerful electric motor and each one had to be skillfully tested. After the first salts were mined, Tyler was required to assay their composition manually to assure the tracking and processing sensors were working with one hundred percent proficiency. The company required him to make certain their two year investment yielded authentic moonsalts, not worthless lunar dust.
After all systems were checked and tuned, Tyler could turn on the auto-pilot. That fully automated system had to be carefully monitored through a complete 24 hour cycle before he returned to his hibernation capsule for his next deep death-like sleep. His hibernation periods would consume most of the two year mission.
This cut down on the amount of life support his mining worm would have to provide, and the amount of storage space needed for extra oxygen, food, water and living supplies. Valuable module space had been expertly engineered to maximize storage of the precious moonsalts. The hibernation process was not only economical, but essential in preventing the mind-killing boredom of each human operator.
Tyler knew he would be napping for at least the next year and a half during the mining expedition. At his journey's end he'd have plenty of money for school and a nest egg to start his adult life. He was only scheduled to be awakened if a malfunction occurred that the computers could not correct. The worm had backup systems for most anticipated problems, but the company had learned from NASA's unmanned spacecraft programs that the lack of human hands could cost billions of dollars due to seemingly simple malfunctions. Examples of events necessitating human hands included dish antennas failing to deploy, thrusters that didn't fire and parachutes not opening.
During hibernation, as Tyler slept, the worm had worked tirelessly and continuously. When the storage holds were filled to capacity, the mining worm was designed to either travel up toward the surface of the moon until it was recalled by Central Control, or was signaled from Moon Station Armstrong and told to surface at the end of the two year mission cycle.
The recall signal which had been received at mining worm # 34 was like a series of coded seismic waves. The waves were produced on the orbiting moon station by an electro-magnetic rail system which accelerated small plastic projectiles to a high speed collision with the surface of the moon near the mining area.
As Tyler performed the cross checks on the nuclear reactor, he discovered the reason he had been awakened. The Nuclear fuel depletion gauge was problematic. He wasn't certain whether the fuel was actually as depleted as the gauge registered, or whether there were computer malfunctions with the gauge itself.
He knew it was time to resurface while he was confident the worm still had sufficient power to reach the lunar surface. Besides, his worm had collected all the salts it could hold and was just waiting for the end of the two year cycle signal to be sent down from Central Control in the Armstrong. If the mission clock had been working at nineteen months, then he was in the last five months of the cycle any way.
The incorrect time on the clock was probably due to some burned out micro-chip, but the experts back on Armstrong could fix that and any other gauge or reactor problems before the next mining class took over.
Chapter TwoRising from the Depths
Tyler checked the start up menu for resurfacing and found that all systems were green. So with the flip of a switch the mining worm began its slow assent toward the bleak lunar surface. Rising at an angle of thirty degrees, it would be a little under five hours before breaking through to the surface. In his mind, he could visualize the rotating cutting blades eating a circular pathway up through the rock. The vibration of the four locomotion tracks gave him confidence that they were all functioning well.
After an hour, the sonar readout showed his mining machine was still eighty-three meters underground. It was encouraging that he had only four more hours to go. Tyler's mind reflected back ... four hours was the amount of time it had taken him to finish the company qualification endurance race back at the training school on the Antarctic ice pack. That race had determined his # 34 ranking in his class of one hundred members.
Jill Sorensen beat his time by ten minutes, coming in at # 32, the top female finisher in the class. Jill was in good shape. It was also her swift ability to solve the test problems at each of the ten check points that gave her such a high ranking.
Tyler remembered the crisp fresh air and rhythmic efforts as his cross country skis found their stride traversing course sections between each of the ten testing stations.
The best time in the race had been turned in by Nigel Fox, a tall, arrogant, overall champion type from New Zealand. Nigel had also been squad leader during occasions when Tyler felt at odds with him. Tyler was usually even tempered and normally avoided conflicts, but there was a point where Nigel's gigantic ego and the stresses of the course had driven Tyler to the edge of violence.
Not that his five foot eight, one hundred sixty-five pound body would have fared very well against an athlete like Nigel Fox, but it would have been worthwhile just to get in a few good licks. However, thoughts of getting kicked out of school for fighting kept Tyler in check.
Maybe he harbored just a little hint of jealousy regarding Nigel. After all, he had to admit that his former squad leader was in fact nearly as good as Nigel thought himself to be. Nigel had a background in electrical engineering, was a computer whiz, and was also the only one in their class to successfully problem-solve every crisis radio dispatch and communications situation scrambled up for their squad to resolve.
Tyler felt very lucky to have been selected as one of the one hundred in his class. Many thousands of young people had applied and had met the basic requirements of age, height, weight, GPA, health, vision, intelligence, and lack of a criminal record. Only a very few had passed the rigorous physical and mental tests, and had stood out in the interviews. Tyler had overcome some slight math challenges with Jill's help, ending up with a competitive score. He had been assigned to the 34th richest area to mine and it was like a dream had come true.
By now, Tyler developed new hopes and dreams afforded him by the promise of two to three hundred thousand dollars in the bank. His goals and imaginings included a wide selection of colleges and universities to attend, a new car, and most important of all, the love of Jill Sorensen or someone with qualities likes hers to win. Not bad prospects for a brown haired, middle class, twenty-one year old from the Midwest.
After the five months of training on the southern ice pack, Tyler and his classmates were taken aboard the Moon Station Armstrong for an additional month of training before being sent down to the surface of the moon to begin their mining voyage. Oh how he longed to run unleashing his muscles and feel the pulse of a rhythmic stride once again. He was grateful to be nearing the time he would leave the worm capsule and board Moon Station Armstrong.
At last the three connected module units broke through the powdery gray surface. Like a grotesque metal worm, they crawled out onto the barren airless wasteland of the moon. Tyler switched the drive tracks and mining heads to the off position. The forward motion of the mining worm stopped and corkscrew shaped anchors burrowed down, securing the two lunar stationed units. They would remain anchored to the moon until their next mission with a fresh Command Module.
These activities prompted the main computer in the worm to signal Central Command and Control in the orbiting Moon Station Armstrong and begin unit three disconnect, then pre-launch sequences. When the control panel indicated the procedure was complete, Ty went to the equipment cabinet and began to suit up.
After donning the bulky space outfit, he reviewed the suit's safety check list. He checked both heating and cooling climate controls, pressure suit integrity, air supply, reserve air, water for drinking, body waste disposal system, radiation monitor, radio, tool pouch, sun-visor, and video-camera. When he was satisfied that all space suit systems checked out, he opened the hatch and stepped into the confined space of the air-lock.
With the turn of a wheel, he closed the air-lock hatch behind him then immediately turned on the air evacuation pump. Once the green light came on, Tyler knew it was OK to open the outside hatch. He slid the ladder out, snapped it into the ladder holds, and began the short descent to the bottom rung. The bottom rung was about eighteen inches from the lunar surface so with great ceremony he said, "One large step for Elijah Tyler West, and one small step for mankind."
He stepped off, his right foot sinking two inches into the powdery gray dust. Lunar gravity made Tyler only one sixth his earth bodyweight and even with the addition of the space suit mass, he could have played for any NBA team with his vertical leap.
Excerpted from The Salt Of Tranquility by Gery Sidney Cottam Beth A. Cottam Copyright © 2012 by Beth A. Cottam. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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