Chapter Index
-First Command - A Tom Corbett Adventure

Chapter 14

All five men were securely strapped in their acceleration chairs in the nose of the Andromeda. Tom, occupying the center position of the console, called out each item on the pre-launch check list and either Roger or Astro would respond as required. As each item was checked, another green-colored lamp would become illuminated as a red lamp went dark. During the procedure, an occasional rumbling could be felt as another ship left the bonds of Earth for the freedom of space. Roger, to Tom’s left, watched the monitors that gave him several views of the launch area from cameras that were positioned at various locations on the ship. One of the tailfin cameras provided a scene of the Andromeda’s service crew heading for the launchpad blockhouse.

Roger switched the camera view to a lateral position which gave displayed a spaceman’s fantasy. For miles into the distance, the tall spires of spaceships pointed toward the stars. Inwardly, he hoped that the launching of the armada was being recorded for posterity. It would be many years before the earth would shake for so long and so often. "Captain, ground support is clear!", announced the blonde. "What is our place in launch sequence?"

Tom listened to the chattering of the men in the control tower and looked at the eager face of his astrogator. "We’re second in line, Roger. Prepare to raise ship!"

Astro called, "Aye aye, captain! Cabin rotation beginning... now!"

The big Venusian, using a joystick that was mounted to the right arm of his chair, maneuvered a pointer through the proper event sequence on his monitor screen. As each item was selected, Astro squeezed a trigger that began that function.

The command cabin of the Andromeda was mounted on an integrated track that allowed the deck and consoles to rotate into a vertical position. As the crew felt the pull of gravity shifting, it appeared as if the wide viewport was swinging over their heads and moving to the front of the cabin. This was the illusion of the cabin rotation and when the crewmen were lying hard on their backs, the rotation stopped and the viewport gave everyone in the cabin of clear blue sky which was streaked with the contrails of the many ships that had launched before them.

"Two minutes to blast off!", announced Tom.

"Gyro’s stable! Pumps primed and coming to pressure!", called the excited Venusian.

Roger shouted, "APUs disconnected, gantry fully retracted! We’re on our own!"

"We have clearance! Roger.... confirm projected orbit number one one six!"

"Confirmed!", shouted the blonde above the rising whine of the reactant and coolant pumps.

"Ten seconds! Feed reactant... D-12 rate!"

Astro effortlessly made the pointer glide to the feed-level segment of the monitor screen and selected the proper feed rate. He then shouted to Tom, "We’re hot as a firecracker, Captain!"

Tom watched the event-timer on the console and orally counted off the seconds. "Five...four...three.. two... one... zero!"

The massive ship strained as the six atomic power plants carefully converted the concentrated reactant into superhot plasma that was ejected from the nozzles of the engines. The giant ship slowly began lifting off of the launch pad and then swiftly accelerated into the thin air above the spaceport. Roger watched the monitor as the ship followed his programmed course into an arc that would take them curving toward the moon. "Passing fifty-thousand feet, Captain! On course!"

Tom called, "Engineer! Status report!"

Astro, not showing any effects of the increased gravity due to acceleration, replied, "She’s running perfectly, Captain! Not even a hiccup!"

Tom tried to relax even as the acceleration forced him hard into his chair. He looked outwardly as the sky turned progressively darker. This was always his favorite part of space flight.... the transition from being a planet-bound creature into a free-flying spirit.

"Captain!", shouted Astro, "We’re approaching escape velocity!"

"Okay, throttle back slowly but keep us on a one-g burn until we reach programmed engine shut down."

Roger watched his scanners intently as the sleek ship entered the blackness of space. "Captain! This looks like one of those training exercises when we were cadets! There are ships everywhere... on every heading that you could plot! Throw in the normal satellite and space station traffic, and the computers are having trouble keeping tabs on everybody!"

For several minutes, Andromeda continued at a mild acceleration rate that would bring it to the rendezvous point with the two ships that were required for this portion of the mission.

Astro announced, "Engine shut down in five... four... three... two... one... artificial gravity generators on! Shut down!"

The noise that had been transmitted from the engines through the structures suddenly ceased. Only the sound of the ventilation system and Roger’s clicks of the keyboard could be heard. Tom unstrapped himself from his chair and turned toward the rear of the cabin, exposing a wide grin to his two passengers.

"Brenchluss!", exclaimed Bull Wellington.

Not understanding, Tom asked, "Sir? What was that?"

"Brenchluss... It’s an old German word used by some of the pioneers of rocket flight." Bull unbuckled his harness and rose from the chair. He looked back at Tom and explained. "Just after the Second World War, many of the top rocket scientists from Germany elected to continue their experiments in the United States of America where they had many more resources than ever before. A few of these scientists were fluent in the English language and they developed close relationships with the news and information services and were constantly looked to for advice and interpretation of missions for presentation to the public. One of the words that they used quite often in their reporting was brenschluss... it means burnout and it was used to describe how the early rocket engines ceased working after running out of fuel."

Bull then noticed that the other two crewmen had joined in listening to the explanation. "Okay, men! Enough of the history lesson. Time to get back to work!"

The young men resumed their duties and Paul Robb leaned in to the security chief’s ear. "Major, I have a feeling that you must have known the Chinese man who invented the first rocket!"

Wellington smiled and nodded at Paul. "No, I didn’t know him, but sure like to have met him! To tell you the truth, Major, when it comes to space flight, I enjoy getting there as much as I enjoy being there!"

Since the cabin had rotated, the airlock deck was exposed to direct access from the control cabin. The two majors walked back to the lockers that ringed the airlock deck. Paul opened one of the locker doors and then shouted toward the command cabin. "Astro! Reduce the gravity on this deck by 75 per cent!"

"Aye, sir!", replied the large man even as he adjusted the artificial gravity generator.

Bull and Paul suddenly felt quite light of foot and after adjusting to the new gravity, they resumed digging though the locker. Paul easily lifted the once-heavy valise out of the storage rack and place it on an aluminum grating. The reservist retrieved a light key from his tunic pocket and pushed a sequence of buttons that overrode the security feature of the key. Paul placed the key in the locking receptacle for the case which caused the latch to open. After replacing the key into his pocket, Paul slowly opened the case. Bull’s eyes grew wide as he recognized the contents of the box.

"Major!", exclaimed the security chief, "Where did you get these?"

Paul smiled widely, not caring that he exposed his jagged dentures. "Major, if veterans declared every combat souvenir that he acquired and brought home, there would not be any memorabilia in museums!"

He then picked up one of the many devices that were occupying carefully constructed pockets in the padded case, and then handed it to Bull.

Major Wellington accepted the device and nervously asked, "Is it live?"

"Sure it is! In fact, they all are!", boasted the white-haired man. "I wouldn’t be able to use them for bargaining, if they wouldn’t work!".

Major Robb knelt beside the case and stared at the contents in silence for a moment. He then looked at Bull and stated, "My big problem is getting them through customs at Venus Space Station and in Venusport..... Got any ideas, Major?"

Bull reached into his inner tunic pocket and produced several papers and labels and handed them to Paul. As Paul looked them over, Bull explained, "I’m way ahead of you, Major. I figured that just in case you could bring along the trading material that you proposed in our planning sessions, we would need some way to get it to the planet without raising any eyebrows."

Paul looked over the sets of papers that would identify the bearer as a special envoy from the Solar Council. The labels were actually diplomatic courier seals which identified the contents of any package as exempt from any inspection or inquiry. Paul smiled and stuck one of the labels onto the valise. "I have to applaud your foresight, Major! Having the labels addressed to the Governor of Venus is a nice touch!"

Bull half-smirked and said, "Thank you, Major! I take pride in doing things right the first time. You won’t have to worry about getting these planetside. And you can bet that I won’t let them out of my sight either!"

Paul replaced the device into the case and re-closed the latch. After re-sealing the case into the locker, he told Astro to return the artificial gravity to normal.

When the senior officers returned to the command deck, Tom betrayed his curiosity. "Sirs, are we transporting something that the rest of us should know about?"

Paul looked at Bull, not wanting to volunteer an answer without clearance. Bull quickly cleared his throat and said, "Not now, Lieutenant. In fact it would probably be better for the success of the mission if you didn’t know more than necessary about our cargo."

Tom nodded and replied, "Yes, Sir.", then returned to his flight duties. He pretended to be unconcerned about the cargo, but he burned to know what he and his mates were taking to Venus and how it would aid the mission.

Roger called, "Captain, I have the Targa and Planetrise on long-range scanners! I estimate rendezvous in forty minutes!"

Tom forgot about the mysterious contents of the valise as he concentrated on the complex maneuver that would help to confuse any of Sen’s spies.

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