Earth Defense Base Delta - Flight Deck - March 3, 1982 07:26
The base extended hundreds of feet underground, but the maze of tunnels was well laid out and it was actually hard to get lost.
Captain Morris pulled on his suit and, carrying his helmet under one arm, stepped out onto the gantry. Before him the long tapered body of his rocket towered above and stretched down below him. Its smooth silvery skin only broken by the shape of the main hatch.
Before heading to the hatch, he did his routine once-around. X-4 was an Apollo-class Rocket-ship. The latest design. Nearly 30 feet at her widest and 150 feet tall from her powerful engines to the sharp tip of her nose. Morris did a quick walk around the outside visually checking out the silvery skin alert for defects.
In 10 nearly identical launch tubes, 10 nearly identical rockets were being looked over by their captains. Whether or not their ship was going up today, each captain wanted to make sure they were ready for the call. The thousands of men and women of Earth Defense Base Delta had their work focused on making sure these 10 rockets were ready to respond when needed.
He looked over the edge. 70 feet below him three fat fins held the engines off the floor and held the rocket’s primary weapons. Looking up he could just make out the seams of the plates that covered the portholes. These could be retracted to let the crew look out during longer flights, but usually remained closed for alert calls like this.
He finished his walk around just as a crewman ran up to the deck chief and handed over 8 bright red “Remove Before Flight” tags. The deck chief inspected each and noted their ID numbers on his clipboard before dismissing the crewman and turning to Captain Morris.
“She’s ready to go.” He said, handing over the tags and clipboard for inspection.
Morris took the tags and clipboard and made a cursory glance over the checklist. Atomic fuel, oxygen, latest engine overhaul results. Everything looked good. He handed back the board. “Looks good, Chief. Crew onboard?”
The deck chief nodded. “Yep. Everyone checked in, including a replacement radioman who got here just before you did.”
Morris whistled. “Wow. Major Williams can really motivate people when he needs to.” The deck chief nodded knowingly. “Is the new guy anyone you know?”
“Nope. He looks greener than a Nebraska cornfield, but at least he should know which end of the radio to talk into.”
“Well, so long as he can keep the radio working today we can worry about training him up later.” Morris gave the deck chief a quick salute which was returned and then turned to his ship.
He stepped through the hatch and the chief closed it behind him. He dogged the hatch and latched the override closed. A pound on the hard metal wall was answered when the deck chief checked the seal and pounded the response. He then did the same for the inner door of the airlock, securing it and preparing it for launch.
He punched the ship’s comm button. “Alright crew. The boss is here. I’m heading up to the bridge now. We launch in 1 minute.” A chorus of “Aye ayes!” answered from up and down the central ladder-way.
He made his way up two decks to the bridge. Arrayed around the central access were three stations. He sat down in the captain’s chair and started his launch checklist.
To his right in the pilot’s chair, Lieutenant Michael Taylor worked down his launch checklist. He flipped switches and watched for the corresponding ready lights.Checklist done he called “Pilot chair ready”. Morris had been flying with Taylor for 3 years now and knew that Taylor would now be doing a second checkover of his ready list.
To his left sat Lieutenant Ken Thompson at the navigator’s station. He was speaking into his radio getting last minute updates that he was marking on his charts that were spread out across his desk in what looked like a haphazard mess but what was a form of order Morris had long since given up on trying to understand.
Having gotten the pilot’s go-ahead, Morris pressed a button on his console. “Engine room, status?”
After a short delay space chief Green replied. “We are topped up and ready to go on your order.”
Morris hit another button. “Gunnery, status?”
Crewman Lewis replied almost over-eagerly, “Green across the board here. We’re ready to take out some rocks!”
“Good to hear it,” Morris replied. Switching the comm, “Radio, signal Space Control we are ready to go and request permission to launch.”
After a delay, a shaky voice came back, “Aye aye, Captain. Requesting permission to launch.”
Morris heard some clicks and switches across the line followed by some mutterings and more clicks.
After a way too long delay, the radioman came back, “Space Control is on the line.”
“Thank you, radioman.”
“Space Control, this is X-4, we are ready to launch.”
“Roger, X-4.” Came back the voice of their launch officer. “We are clearing you now.”
Around the ship, gantry ways were retracting, hoses were being disconnected, cables reeled in and blast doors were being sealed. Above the ship, the huge door covering the launch tube was rolling to the side, exposing the ship to the early morning sky.
“Deck reports clear.” Came the report from the engine room.
“Doors are clear.” Reported Taylor in the pilot chair.
Morris was waiting for the launch officer to give them the go-ahead to launch when Major Williams broke in the line “All ships, this looks like a relatively minor meteor shower, so we are going to send up just X-1, X-3, X-4 and X-7. The rest of you remain at ready state but stand down for training.”
“X-1, X-3, X-4 and X-7, you are cleared for launch.”
Morris hit the all-ship comm. “Ok, boys strap in. We are green to go.”
He watched a bank of 8 lights as each switched from yellow to green, signifying a crew member securing their chair for launch. When the final light turned green, Morris gave the signal to Taylor and Taylor counted down. “5… 4… 3… 2… 1… and go!”
At the bottom of the ship, three huge atomic engines came to life and the ship started to climb out of her launch tube. Morris’ seat automatically tilted back as he was pressed into it by the force of the launch.
The ship cleared the top of the tube and the acceleration doubled again as the engines pushed to full throttle. In one monitor, Morris watched as the ground started to recede. In another monitor he could see 3 other rockets riding clouds of fire into the sky.
“Sending course corrections into the system now.” Came the navigator as he strained to enter the necessary coordinates.
“Passing 100 miles”. Called the pilot.
“Time to target?” Morris asked.
The navigator checked his dials. “We should be at target zone in 10 minutes.”
Morris switched on ship-comms as the force of the launch slowly ebbed. “We should be in the path of those rocks in 10 minutes. I want all positions ready for action in 3.”
Another chorus of “Aye ayes” answered him.