A Shift in Priorities - Sequel

The only thing that can ruin a good day is people.
(Ernest Hemingway)

The mountains had laboured and had brought forth a mouse. Teniente de Navio Julius Nyerere scrutinised the five Askaris who were about to disembark. They had arrived from home four days ago. There had been a considerable delay, as Duala had been shut off for weeks because of a contagious disease. And before that, the authorities on Curaçao had deliberated for an eternity whether to pursue the issue at all.

The lads were long-range recon troopers, especially trained to operate behind enemy lines. Their leader was a lieutenant, an older guy, obviously a former NCO. They expected to sojourn on Hispaniola for two months, living off the land. Nyerere didn’t envy them for this assignment. But they seemed relaxed and quite cheerful. They had explained what they were going to do. They would go into hiding and observe the environment.

That was an interesting modus operandi, but perhaps more sensible than haphazardly zipping around in the jungle. It had something a submariner could understand very well: silently lying in wait for the prey. The Bahia de Neiba was as quiet and deserted as it had been the last time. No Amis far and wide… That alone was highly suspect. They knew S-17 was here; one had been flown over twice on the approach march.

Well, the Askaris would be gone in less than thirty minutes. And so would be S-17. Let the Amis wonder what was going on. S-17 was travelling on the surface, as long as there was no hurricane threatening. The hurricane season hereabouts had just begun. One could be lucky and make it back to Curaçao before the weather turned foul – or one was forced to dive and travel submerged.

Nyerere shook hands with the Askaris before they mounted the rubber dinghy. They were travelling light, one rucksack per guy and only reduced gear; no helmets, no NBC equipment, no radios; just ordinary rifles, knives and bushwhackers. “I’ll be back here in sixty days.” Nyerere saw them off. The dinghy belonged to the boat, once it was back one would pull anchor.
 
There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule.
(Mark Twain)

Hit! The horn was still hooting. Captain Patock was on the comm. The reactor was shutting off. One was on batteries. The hit must have been in the reactor section; one was still searching for it. Jochen Zeislitz sat in his chair and could do nothing. His spacesuit was donned and closed. The Hammer was speeding ahead.

The Admiral was also sitting in his chair – and could do nothing. This was the hour of the repair teams. Reports were coming in, all stations were suited up. And the impact had been found. Rather large, a hole as if made by a tennis ball. Yep, the reactor had been hit. Nothing really serious, but enough to have auto shut off click in.

Indeed, lucky under the circumstances, only a bunch of cooling conduits and power lines had been hit. Egress had been found as well. Yes, holes had been sealed. The teams were working to substitute the torn conduits. – Okay, reactor shut off couldn’t be stopped. Batteries ought to bridge over until the reactor could be started again.

But saving energy couldn’t be wrong. The Admiral was already issuing orders: only essential functions, everything else was to be disconnected. Spacesuits could be opened again. Emergency provisions would be distributed. Jochen switched off the screens. They were useless right now. Lighting went down to emergency light.

Waiting was announced; sit and wait. Except for the dinghy pilots: boats were to be manned.
 
Deal with difficult tasks while they are easy. Act on large issues while they are small.
(Laozi)

There was something wrong with the reactor. Shut off had worked as scheduled. But the core, the fuel rod assembly, was still hot and required cooling nevertheless. Because of the ruptured conduits the cooling process wasn’t running optimal – to say the least. Captain Patock reported that core temperature was much too high, but now was apparently stabilising, as coolant loss had been stopped.

Jochen Zeislitz tried to recall what he had learnt about the Hammer’s pressurised water reactor. The primary coolant was normal water pumped to the reactor core under high pressure. Pressure was at 155 bar and entry temperature at 275° Celsius. The secondary coolant was also normal water; that, however, had nothing to do with keeping the core from melting.

No, that wasn’t quite true. The secondary coolant was cooling down the primary coolant. The primary coolant didn’t leave the radioactive part of the reactor, which hadn’t been hit. Hence, the conduits of the secondary coolant circuit must have been damaged.

Okay, so it was a staggered process – and the main circuit was still intact. There was some room for accretion; the water in the primary circuit would do the job until 375° C and 220 bar. Jochen guessed the torn electrical cables had something to do with the pumps that kept the cooling process in flow.

But repairing – or rather replacing – electrical cables was snap. Therefore, the repair crew ought to be able to fix the problem. If the pumps were not working, one could use external ones – at least for the secondary circuit. – But if the reactor really should reach failure, one was done…
 
Amid the pressure of great events, a general principle gives no help.
(Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel)

The immediate damage had been repaired. The reactor was still out of service. One had to wait until the iodine pit had faded away. The battery pool had been designed to be capable of bridging that time gap. The question, however, was: would the reactor start again? It had run fairly hot before cooling had set in again. One could only pray that the control rods would move as arranged.

Konteradmiral Carl Emmermann was pondering the options in case of reactor failure. In fact, there was only one option: fire all bombs and accelerate the Hammer at the maximum. That meant a very fast voyage home – but also the impossibility to brake. Hence, the crew would have to abandon ship and man the lifeboats, the dinghies. And the boats would have to brake down by repeatedly dipping into Earth’s atmosphere.

It was doable, even if acceleration had to be adapted to the human ability to stand it. Therefore, the journey was going to take three weeks. The batteries should deliver energy for half of that time. After their demise, one would depend on the spacesuits – and finally on the life-support elements of the boats. The kosmonauts were still struggling to work out the deceleration routine for the dinghies.

The boats were all landers and could brake powerfully. Yet, that alone wouldn’t suffice. One would need Earth’s atmosphere for the rest. One wouldn’t be able to land though. The end state should be orbiting around Earth and waiting for pickup. – It was a bold concept. Oberst Zeislitz seemed to think he and his colleagues could manage it. The rest of the crew didn’t know yet about the scheme. – And hopefully, they would never have to…
 
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He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

The Hammer was in trouble! Helga von Tschirschwitz had been electrified upon hearing the news. Leaving the Jovian system they had been hit by a meteorite and the reactor had been damaged. One didn’t know yet whether the reactor could be reactivated. – It wasn’t an outright disaster yet, but had the potential to turn into one. She had immediately asked to be allowed to pass the information – every bit of information available – to the media.

Reality was once again beating fiction. This was going to enthral the public, far more than one could hope to achieve with a space kamal. Director Kammler had immediately agreed – and had put Helga on hold at the same time. One didn’t know yet whether the reactor was permanently disabled. Should it work the voyage could proceed as scheduled. Hence one shouldn’t prematurely alert everybody and his dog. She should prepare everything, but hold back until the calamity was confirmed.

She had protested. One had to exploit every opportunity. But Kammler wouldn’t budge. Two more days didn’t make any difference. Reports from the Hammer were arriving only piecemeal. The communication gap of forty-three minutes was crippling acquisition of information anyway. Before addressing the media she should make sure she could answer their questions.

That wasn’t altogether wrong, as Helga was soon to learn. One didn’t know much yet here in Prerow. Reporting was improving, said OpCon, since the acute damage had been fixed and the Hammer crew were finding time to transmit more detailed information. But posing questions was a pain in the ass… Okay then, she would wait and gather information. And perhaps things would turn out well…
 
All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force.
(Max Planck)

The godawful control rods wouldn’t move. Caked! Thoroughly caked! Captain Patock had hissed. Maximum force had been applied – to no avail. Opening the primary containment pod wouldn’t help; it didn’t provide a better leverage. And disassembling the core wasn’t feasible with on board materials, even if one was ready to disregard the peril of heavy radioactive contamination. – Okay, that left one resort: the express to Earth.

Jochen Zeislitz, Werner Aßmann and Fritz Meyer had already begun plotting, together with Captain Frerichs and his navigators. One had to aim meticulously. Earth was the target. The express would go straight, right through the asteroid belt. Well, it wasn’t really complicated: full throttle and get it done! One would accelerate to five g; all crew members had been tested to that figure.

Some folks might become unconscious nevertheless, but not the kosmonauts; they were accustomed to riding out such acceleration. The Hammer was truly going to soar this time. – Would one make it home? Yes, of course – if one didn’t run into a major asteroid, which was highly improbable to happen. The navigators had studied the area on the way out. The belt was virtually empty.

The problem would be life support. The batteries were liable to trickle away within the next ten days. That left the spacesuits and the boats. Oxygen ought to suffice, according to extrapolation; hence one might have a chance…
 
Well, running into debris around Jupiter is also improbable yet they managed multiple hits nonetheless. XD
I wonder how future expeditions ITTL are supposed to handle this.
 
This close call might just kill any future manned expeditions, imo.
This world seems to have a much different opinion of acceptable risk than OTL after the English plague, Chinese bomb and geo-engineering by tsarbombing glaciers. Remember some time ago that resettling radioactive wasteland was discussed like ‘some people would get cancer, but no major obstacles’. The death of the Russian astronauts to Venus didn’t hamper human space operation in this TL.
 
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We all know your idea is crazy. The question is whether it is crazy enough.
(Niels Bohr)

The dinghies had to be prepared. “Fidelio”, “Elsa”, “Brünhild” and “Pamina” had to be loaded with all samples taken in the Jovian system – and all the films and negative images – and the supplies necessary to sustain a complement of twelve for ten days. The load bays could not take all this, one had to install extra boot.

During the acceleration period, nothing could be done. Hence, everything had to be accomplished while the Hammer dashed past the asteroids and Mars orbit. Hauptmann Theo Osterhage was writing his to-do list. “Fidelio” had been earmarked as flagship; the Admiral would board. That meant extra comm equipment had to be accommodated as well.

It could be done. According to his tally sheet one was going to need four days for the work. This included the alteration of those load bays which were to hold the ice samples. They would be cooled by space cold. That was happening right now already in the Hammer’s load bays. One had to save energy, after all.

The horn was hooting. Acceleration was due to start in one hour. All right, time to get ready for the torture. One had to sit absolutely tight. Nothing had to be able to move. And, of course, one had to wear spacesuit. But it was okay, there was no time to be lost. The batteries didn’t get any better…
 
He was weak on philosophy and an excellent driver, but his driving was a lot more dangerous than his philosophy.
(Bertolt Brecht)

Jochen Zeislitz and his co-pilots Werner and Fritz were to jockey “Pamina”, the reserve dinghy. Captain Patock was going to join as flight engineer. Three guys had died during the acceleration period, Captain Frerichs’ first assistant, one of the reactor engineers, and the cook. They, in their body bags, would travel on with the Hammer. “Pamina” had not been used in the Jovian system; it was untried, sort of, but also fairly unworn. Loading the beast was in progress now, the retrofitting being complete.

One had to hurry, because the batteries were in their final throes. Once the dinghies had to be manned, everything was going to become extremely difficult. The boats had not been designed for durably accommodating ten people. But that was the least worry on Jochen’s mind. Detaching from the Hammer wouldn’t pose a problem. Yet, one still was going to have the Hammer’s velocity: 0.01 c.

Braking down and steering towards Earth was quite a challenge, even to an old hand like Jochen. Braking further by dipping into the atmosphere was the ultimate challenge. Would it suffice to sufficiently slow down the boat? Or would it speed on to nowhere? Or would the dinghy be consumed by the heat? It would be playing vabanque. Jochen would have to rely on his instincts. Quite a chancy affair…
 
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He was weak on philosophy and an excellent driver, but his driving was a lot more dangerous than his philosophy.
(Bertolt Brecht)

Jochen Zeislitz and his co-pilots Werner and Fritz were to jockey “Pamina”, the reserve dinghy. Captain Patock was going to join as flight engineer. Three guys had died during the acceleration period, Captain Frerichs’ first assistant, one of the reactor engineers, and the cook. They, in their body bags, would travel on with the Hammer. “Pamina” had not been used in the Jovian system; it was untried, sort of, but also fairly unworn. Loading the beast was in progress now, the retrofitting being complete.

One had to hurry, because the batteries were in their final throes. Once the dinghies had to be manned, everything was going to become extremely difficult. The boats had not been designed for durably accommodating ten people. But that was the least worry on Jochen’s mind. Detaching from the Hammer wouldn’t pose a problem. Yet, one still was going to have the Hammer’s velocity: 0.1 c.

Braking down and steering towards Earth was quite a challenge, even to an old hand like Jochen. Braking further by dipping into the atmosphere was the ultimate challenge. Would it suffice to sufficiently slow down the boat? Or would it speed on to nowhere? Or would the dinghy be consumed by the heat? It would be playing vabanque. Jochen would have to rely on his instincts. Quite a chancy affair…
At 0,1c aerobraking is utterly impossible. Sorry. The dinghys will be chewed up by the little bit of matter in inner solar system within shortest time - basically every microscopic dust particle impacts like a bomb. And contact with denser matter like the upper atmosphere means an immediate and very violent end, somewhat close to the Weizsäcker Sun in effect.
 
And with 0,1 light speed =1,8 million kilometers a minute it would take maybe half a day to reach Earth, not three weeks.
 
The meanest life is better than the most glorious death.
(Euripides)

The Hammer came rushing in, very fast. Too fast, said the experts here at Prerow. Well, speed was essential, because the kosmonauts were running out of power. They had to hurry – or they would perish in transit. The Hammer had to be abandoned anyway, so that wasn’t of concern. But the dinghies couldn’t brake down sufficiently under their own steam. They needed Earth’s atmosphere to ultimately reduce speed. – Or they would be lost, dashing into the void. It was highly critical, explained the experts. Even so, there was a chance of success, but it was desperately small.

Helga von Tschirschwitz was working in a frenzy. The media and the public had gone into hysterics. Good that she was well prepared – and usually could answer all their questions. Yes, it was serious. The Hammer crew might die, all of them. No, there was no peril for Earth; it wouldn’t be hit by the Hammer. (And the dinghies were too small to do any substantial damage.) Yes, the Hammer was going to dart ahead – without crew. Yes, it would leave the solar system. No, there was no specific target; general direction was towards Sirius, but only very approximate.

Yes, the dinghies had been designed to be capable of braking decisively. But the Hammer’s speed was simply too high. It had to be so high though to bring the ship into Earth’s vicinity in time. Hence, the atmosphere was required as a second brake. Yes, that was very tricky. Yes indeed, unpleasant things might happen to the kosmonauts… But all of the pilots were experienced hands. They had a chance, and they certainly would harness it. No, the boats wouldn’t hit anything on the surface. If things should go awry, they would deflagrate in the upper atmosphere, in the mesosphere, 50 to 85 kilometres above the surface. They were no solid bodies. They would blow out.

The worst case, however, in Helga’s mind, was that braking in the atmosphere didn’t work – and the boats sped on. Nobody would be able to catch them and help the crews. The blokes would die slowly from lack of oxygen – but with full radio interconnection to Raumkolonie and Prerow. The boats would finally plummet into the sun, when the crews were long dead. It was an appalling thought…
 
I’ve been to Hell. You’ve only read about it.
(Marquis de Sade)

Jochen Zeislitz was intensely watching the clockhand. Now! Release! And braking… The Hammer was gone as soon as the jets started firing. The four dinghies were flying in formation. Moving apart was part of the braking manoeuvre. Fritz was talking with Prerow via Raumkolonie. Werner was in contact with the other boats. Jochen was following the pre-elaborated braking routine.

Prerow said they were hearing loud and clear. It was good to be on direct communication again. But that was the only good feature. One was flying according to schedule – without seeing the target. Earth wasn’t there – yet. If everything went as planned, it would be there at the end of the braking sequence. The situation reminded a little bit of a Raumkobold flight, where you had to trust what opcon was telling you.

Only there was no opcon. Prerow was just watching; they could do nothing but wait. One could only pray that the calculations one had done on board the Hammer were proving correct. Oxygen was already running low, but was still tolerable. The plan said switch to spacesuits was due in four hours. That might become necessary earlier. Obviously, folks were panting in panic. Jochen could understand them. They also could do nothing – but wait.

“Elsa” had come out of sight. That was okay. “Brünhild” should be next. “Fidelio” was still too close for Jochen’s liking. He asked Werner. Nothing special to report. Perhaps coincidence. Theo Osterhage thought “Pamina” was too close. One would have to observe that during the next braking phases.
 
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