Invitations from Afar: A Need to Know

Invitations from Afar: A Need to Know

by Linda A. W. King


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After fulfilling every objective of a top secret mission to Jupiter's Ganymede and now only days from home, four NASA astronauts learn from their computer systems analyst in Houston through an unauthorized channel that a bomb may be on a rendezvous course with their ship, the Copernicus.
Mission Specialist Jana Novacek, the youngest astronaut ever, who has been chosen for mysterious reasons, suggests breaking security, announcing their existence to everyone over the net, and asking for help. Someone might be willing to help who unknowingly is involved in the plot against them. Cocommander
Fawzshen, Prince of Rhatania, further recommends revealing their amazing discovery.
Commander Jackson Medwin thinks that Jana's journal is ideal for that purpose.
Jana is distressed and feels her personal journal is not suitable.
Commander Medwin will do anything to save his crew, this mission, and their discovery, but he decides neither to take evasive actions nor break security until they have proof that something is on a collision course with their ship. He considers a deactivated meteoroid detection program uploaded to them from
Houston as insufficient proof.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477203880
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 06/08/2012
Pages: 616
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.37(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Linda A.W. King


Copyright © 2012 Linda A.W. King
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-0388-0

Chapter One

Solarship Copernicus Friday, 2:45 p.m. CDT

"There's something you need to know." From Houston, Max Marsh called the Copernicus for the second time in one flight day, an unusual deviation from routine.

Commander Jackson Medwin replied, "We are so ready for home. Tell me our mission's been declassified, and everyone knows what we've found."

Jack and his three crewmembers certainly were capable of maintaining silence regarding every aspect of their mission, if necessary, for the rest of their lives, even Jana Novacek, the youngest, the one he felt the most responsibility to protect. Jack did not consider the secrecy necessary or desirable. Yet, declassification was not his call.

As the video transmission sharpened, Jack experienced a heightened alertness when noting Max's strangely somber expression. Although Max in his faded plaid shirt looked like he had just stepped out of the old West, he enjoyed a sterling reputation at Johnson Space Center. Jack felt thankful that his friend, a brilliant perfectionist, was the computer systems specialist for this mission.

Yet, why was Max calling now? By procedure, he called only once during each wake cycle, the term for a flight day that often varied in length on a long space mission. Mission Control, referred to simply as Houston, continuously received all of the solarship's readings on many separate channels, and if anything was troublesome, then CAPCOM, the capsule communicator, not Max, should have called.

The time delay was lasting longer than the transmission turnaround. Jack realized that Max was deciding whether or not to divulge something. Finally, Jack said, "Whatever it is, just tell me."

Max replied, "Follow procedure XY12A. That's X-ray, Yankee, One Two Alpha."

"Wilco," Jack said. That meant, "I have received your message; I understand it and will comply." At that moment Jack realized something was seriously wrong. The video screen blurred before the transmission abruptly ended.

XY12A was Max's signal for Jack to open the private, secure channel that bypassed Mission Control. No record would be left of any communication on that channel. Max never before had asked Jack to initiate a secret conversation. Yet, after the security leak a month ago, Jack taped the code on the main console so he would have quick access if the need arose. Now, he spoke. "YELIABNALA"

The response came back. "Not a valid address." He tried again, enunciating each letter carefully, and for each asterisk saying, "star."

As he waited, he did not speculate on what Max might tell him. Instead, he allowed himself to think about his family. In five days, the Copernicus would dock at the spaceport that orbited synchronously with the International Space Station. After nearly a seven-month mission, he and his crew soon would be home.

It was many seconds before Jack got a response. "Hello, this is Max. The video is not clear."

"What's up?" Jack asked.

Again the delay was lasting too long. Max still was deciding. Finally, he quietly announced, "There may be an explosive device—a bomb—heading toward you."

"What? Who would consider such an act? We're talking big bucks. At the very least, sabotage like that requires lift-off and guidance capabilities. It also requires knowledge of our trajectory." His mind flew, trying to make sense out of what Max told him. Finally, he said, "Should I presume that Houston is working the problem? Does CAPCOM not want to worry us?" Jack tried to joke. "And you, on the other hand, are worrying us."

"It's not like that," Max replied. "Today, someone totally outside JSC brought me the coordinates where you'll be tomorrow afternoon at 1600 hours. That's when the bomb supposedly impacts the Copernicus in a little more than 24 hours."

"What's Director Clayton doing about this situation?" Jack asked.

Silence on Max's end stretched longer than the normal transmission delay. Finally, he answered, "I'm checking out some things on my own before going to him."

Jack rapidly evaluated this startling information. Later, he would evaluate more slowly and carefully. Until this moment, he had trusted Max's judgment completely, but now his friend of all people had chosen not to tell the JSC director. It made no sense.

As far back as the initial planning stages, Max had been included in the small circle of people who knew not only about the secret mission but also about its main goal. A thought too horrible to consider came to Jack, but for now he pushed it away and proceeded in another direction. "Who told you this? How credible is the person?"

"Highly credible. This is a secure transmission, I hope, but, still, I'll not mention the name. I'll tell you this much, and then you'll figure it out right away. Last fall, shortly before you went into isolation for this mission, someone wanted to meet you. The three of us went to lunch."

"Yes, I remember," Jack replied, noting that Max's caution extended to not even mentioning the name of the restaurant.

"This morning, that person learned about a bomb plot and was concerned for your safety. He asked me if his information-a set of coordinates and the corresponding time of tomorrow afternoon at 1600 hours-meant anything. A bomb hurtling in space toward you, I thought, was impossible, but to reassure him, I checked out the numbers he brought me. Everything lined right up."

Jack seldom felt confused, and he did not like the feeling. Only a small but growing group within JSC and another small group high up in government knew about their secret mission. Fewer knew about the mission's main goal.

On the other hand, Jack thought, the Copernicus's stealth shield and cloaking devices were not infallible. Neither were their other techniques to avoid detection. Their burns, the fuel expended for course corrections, were planned carefully with detection avoidance in mind. Yet, telescopes all over the world and more orbiting Earth were operated by astronomers and amateurs, always hoping to find something out of the ordinary. However, if some group were tracking them, the Copernicus would appear as an unidentified object in the heavens, not as an identifiable solarship. Jack asked, "How did ... this person know about our mission."

"Easier than you think," Max replied. "This person thought there could be a mission. Remember the security leak last month?"

"Of course," Jack replied. "That would have been the perfect time for Director Clayton to get permission and announce our mission, even with the extraordinary ramifications."

"True," Max said, the corners of his mouth quivering. "Mission Control decided not to tell you that the rumors have intensified, even in the mainstream press."

"Then the secret's out, and the world knows about us," Jack said. "I'm glad."

"Not this way, Jack. Top management has verified nothing. The secret's distorted."


"Not now, Jack. You have enough on your plate."

"If our 'secret' mission is common knowledge, then the whole bomb thing could be nothing but another rumor by someone who gained access to our trajectory. What are the worst rumors?"

"One deals with contamination," Max replied. "Some scandal sheets are running with the idea that your crew is contaminated."

"Director Clayton himself needs to make a public announcement immediately and put frantic minds at ease."

"If only he could," Max replied. "I've recently heard that his request to declassify your mission has been denied."

"That's bad. That's very bad."

"Another rumor deals with Jana. Several papers and TV commentators continue saying the most vicious things about her. They have focused all their hatred on her. They say she has taken over control of the Copernicus."

It angered Jack that she was the target of wild speculation. Yet, Jana was such an easy target. She had no advanced degrees like the other astronauts, not even an undergraduate degree, just two years of college. Jana was the first person from the new, abbreviated training program, and by far the youngest person to fly in space. To know why she had been selected rather than any of the hundreds of far more trained and experienced astronauts, one would need to understand the entire purpose of the mission and Jana's unique qualification, not something easy to explain. For this specific mission, her presence had been crucial. If one did not understand, it would be so easy to make up bizarre reasons for her being on the mission.

Jack put his concerns about Jana aside and focused on the bomb situation. He said, "If people believe a contaminated crew is returning to Earth, there must be extreme fear. Yet, fear is far removed from having the resources to launch a bomb."

"My contact knows of significant financial resources, but I dare not say more about money sources even over this channel. Where is everybody?" Max asked.

For a second, Jack caught sight of the confident, reassuring Max who could solve most any problem and put anyone at ease. "Fawzshen is here in the cabin. I'll get him involved immediately. Lauren and Jana are in the garden module in the cargo bay. Stay on this channel."

"I have been talking with Max," Jack said in a loud voice as he glanced toward Co-commander Fawzshen who was braced against a window, taking pictures.

The Asian man waved Jack closer. "Come here, my friend. This view is most incredible. Earth is a perfect jewel, blue and round, and the moon hangs so close."

Jack glanced in the direction where Fawz pointed. The earth and moon were breathtaking to behold against the blackness of space. Jack realized Fawz had not heard any of the transmission. In the noisy solarship with low air pressure, sound did not travel well. Jack said, "Max asked me to follow procedure XY12A. He's on that channel, now"

"To secretly contact Max!" Fawz raised his brambly brows. "This is most troubling." Fawz's dark eyes grew wide as he abandoned the window, secured his camera, and quickly moved toward Jack and the main console. "That channel bypasses Mission Control."

"Yes, and you need to know what Max has just told me."

Once Fawz was in front of the monitor, he greeted Max and listened carefully as their computer systems specialist concisely explained the situation.

Jack turned toward Fawz and asked, "Any ideas?"

He replied, "If a bomb is out there, our two meteoroid detection programs would alert us. The main program finds every meteoroid within approximately a 20 to 24-hour range. If an explosive were on a rendezvous trajectory with our ship, we still would have about a 10 to 12-hour warning, assuming standard velocities. That should give Houston time to save our ship. JSC has access to thousands of experts who would help us." As an afterthought, he added, "And a few days ago, Houston even sent us an updated meteoroid program."

Max yelled, "I decided not to send that update to you. Your existing program was more than adequate and well tested. You know we don't frivolously send updates in the middle of a mission."

"I'll look at it," Jack said. He turned toward the keyboard of the master computer and typed in a few commands. Since the two meteoroid programs always ran in the background, he checked the tag title of the main one. "Here it is, 'Advanced Meteoroid Detection, Version 6.1.0A Update, programmer: Denise Morneau,' and, listen to this, 'approved: Filbert Grystal.'"

"Fil doesn't have that authority. I'll check into this right away," Max said, his voice metallic and shaking with concern. "Give me an hour, and then call me back. Use the same passcode." Max terminated the transmission.

Jack felt an energy growing within him. It was not unpleasant, more hormones from the adrenal glands kicking in, he figured. "Damn," he thought. "Our lives are in danger, and I like the feeling." That, however, was the extent of Jack thrashing himself. To Fawz, he said, "I assume you saved the prior version."


"Run an analysis of the differences between the two."

"I'll take care of it," Fawz replied.

Jack could count on Fawz no matter how challenging this situation became. His friend for over twenty years was as reliable, steady, and brilliant as anyone he knew.

The two had met as graduate students at the prestigious Houston Aerospace University. Fawz, the crown prince of a small mountainous kingdom named Rhatania, returned to his own country after graduation In the intervening years, he visited the US several times, and on one occasion stayed for a year and trained before flying on an international mission.

Even though a prince, Ph.D., and highly experienced pilot, Fawz's title of co-commander was largely ceremonial. He easily deferred to Jack's decisions. In fact he deferred more easily than several other astronauts that Jack had commanded. This man accustomed to such power and privilege simply worked hard and did his job, completing his tasks with flair and ingenuity. Jack thought Fawz's attitude toward work had much to do with his concept of protocol.

"Jana and Lauren should be back by now," Jack said.

Fawz did not reply because he was deeply involved in his work.

Jack checked the video monitors of the modules lined up in the cargo bay, each connected to the next one. He changed views until he located Mission Specialists Jana Novacek and Lauren Adams inspecting the lettuce garden.

Jana and Lauren both were rookies, as if one could be considered a rookie after a seven-month mission. Jack rarely thought of them that way. Now, he wondered if either of them could handle whatever the next 24 hours might bring. He would need to count on them. Under the worst conditions, the four astronauts would be alone, trying to save themselves with no help from Mission Control. Jana and Lauren would do fine. He could not imagine either one of them falling apart.

Jana was strong without the appearance of muscles. Her hazel eyes, at times green and other times gray, were enhanced by the bluish cast of the whites. Her distinctive eyes danced and missed nothing. She was always observing, always thinking, yet still enthusiastic.

It was fun having such a bubbly young person around, and Jack sometimes envied her emotional peaks, which in no way interfered with getting her work done. He had seen her become as analytical and tough as the most seasoned astronauts.

Jana sometimes stayed up into her sleep cycle writing on a small notebook computer. He wondered if she perceived the trip in the same manner he did. Every now and then, he had an urge to read her private journal. What would a young woman, a 20-year-old rookie without a traditional background, write about? She showed her journal to no one.

Lauren also wrote on her own time, but these addendums to her required JSC reports she gave to Jack and the other crewmembers for comments. Lauren at 29, although several years older than Jana, still was young to be selected for such a plum assignment. Lauren, no-nonsense, efficient, yet pleasant, was picked for this major mission over far more experienced candidates specifically because of her social sciences background. She also had the traditional background-pilot's license, advanced technical degrees-but her degrees in both sociology and linguistics plus her extensive field experience in anthropology were what made her stand out among the astronauts. She was selected solely because her skills would come in handy if the crew fulfilled the mission's primary goal-to find intelligent life. That primary goal was the major reason as far as Jack knew for the mission's secrecy.

Had the mission been publicized, Lauren would have been good for public relations, adding definite glamour to the program. Her appearance was striking, statuesque, and elegant with well-toned muscles and a flawless dark complexion, but she was not the kind of woman that a man would dare compliment regarding her looks. Before the mission, a fellow astronaut in Houston had been hopelessly smitten by Lauren, but as far as she was concerned for the wrong reasons, her looks and her status. That astronaut, Filbert Grystal, had not easily accepted her rejection of him. She had wanted more in a relationship.

Then, Jack remembered something significant. The astronaut in Houston smitten by Lauren, Filbert Grystal, was the same person who had sent the Copernicus the updated meteoroid program without Max's approval. He also had been involved in the security breach a month ago but had been quickly exonerated in that snafu. Jack considered Filbert a self-absorbed, egotistical jerk, who was so different from the positive stereotype most people held of astronauts.

Jack breathed deeply. He could not allow himself the luxury of wildly speculating and constructing a conspiracy theory. There was another side to Filbert. He seemed truly dedicated to the Space Program, and, furthermore, the support staff liked him. Filbert had gone to bat more than once for programmers whom he considered underpaid. Jack suspected Filbert had a tender spot somewhere in his arrogant heart.


Excerpted from INVITATIONS FROM AFAR by Linda A.W. King Copyright © 2012 by Linda A.W. King. 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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Invitations from Afar: A Need to Know 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very pleasant read, quite imaginative. Though a hard nosed editor might have helped more with some of the writing style criticized in the April 8 review below, for an initial publication, I found it acceptable. It was refreshing to have a science fiction book that did not have science used inevitably for evil purposes. Character development of the main characters was good. Many of the characters were quirky, but their actions were entirely consistent with their traits and circumstances. The author obviously has a high opinion of mankind, finding most do the right thing when the need arises. From the beginning, it is not clear where the plot will go, or who the real villain is. While the animus of the actual villain could have been better developed, this did was no impediment to enjoying the book. Much of what was fun about the book besides the actual plot, was the imaginative portrayal of what the future might look like and what could actually be done with scientific creativity. I look forward to Ms. King's next effort! ladeelawyer
AvaR More than 1 year ago
Hard to put down!  Tremendous heart and soul, inspiring camaraderie, with backdrop of great adventure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! Page turner. Inspiring. Great character development. Can't wait for the sequel. Similar to Harry Potter in that it creates a whole new world.
plhdlh More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. I was hooked after 12 pages and had trouble putting it down until I finished it. I'm looking forward to the next book and seeing where the future with the Zalandans leads.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My gosh, where to begin? Very interesting premise, but TERRIBLE execution! Run-on sentences abound, and the author doesn't seem to have a grasp of subtlety. The author puts everything on the table and doesn't seem to realize how important suspense and drama are to good writing - from the pitch: "Someone might be willing to help who unknowingly is involved in the plot against them." Someone? Amorphous. Might? The continued ambiguity makes me wonder if even the author is certain of what she means to write. Lastly, someone who worked at NASA should know ship names are used as personal names. Just as one would never correctly write "the Linda A. W. King," it is inappropriate to write "the Copernicus."