Saturday, October 25, 2014

Step Back - Part 31

Tuesday, October 14, 1969
Baikonur Cosmodrome, USSR

Mikhail Gorbachev could hear the engines of the first stage fire at about ten seconds from the end of the countdown. At the point of zero the clamps holding the Proton launcher and the Soyuz payload to the pad let go. Gorbachev felt his weight multiply by an order of magnitude as the rocket lifted from the pad.

Aboard the Kite in orbit above the Eastern Hemisphere a sensor operator spoke up.

“Captain, we have a major launch at Baikonur.”

“Let's see.” Lieutenant Siekmann said as he floated from the command seat over to the sensor station.

It was the Proton launcher they had been tracking. At first it only had a standard shroud for an unmanned payload installed on it. Then it had been brought back from the launchpad to the assembly hall. The Proton was then returned to the pad with the payload shroud for a Soyuz orbiter on it.

Now the Soviets were actually launching it.

“Very good.” Siekmann said as the first stage of the Proton dropped off. “Let's continue to track it.”

In discussion it was speculated that the initial payload may have been a weapon. With the launch of a Soyuz it appeared that the Soviets had second thoughts about a hostile act and were now attempting a contact mission.

On the command deck of the Eagle the Soyuz spacecraft was also being tracked.

Judith Grant was also watching the proceedings on the command deck. She was doing so while standing up, having recovered sufficiently enough to do so.

“So who would be aboard it?” She asked.

“Good question.” Evelyn replied. “The command pilot should be Alexi Leonov, he's now the senior cosmonaut since Gagarin died, I have no idea who would be in the second seat.”

“No idea at all?”

“Well it wouldn't be any member of the Politburo. Remember, the Communist leadership as a general rule sees other people as something to be used, not one of them will risk their own necks on a contact mission no matter how desperate the situation on the ground may appear. Under the circumstances they'll send someone up who may be up and coming in their system but is still expendable. At this point I could only guess who it is and the guess would likely be wrong.”

Judith nodded. Evelyn then spoke again.

“But the fun part will be the question of how do they get back down?”

“Doesn't the Soyuz have a heat shield?”

“Yes, but it was designed for reentry from a low orbit. A reentry from this altitude would have more energy to bleed off and would require a heavier heat shield.”

Judith nodded in thought and then spoke.

“So if they are using their standard heat shield the Russians would need a ride home?”

“Yes.” Evelyn smiled as he replied.

President Nixon was notified of the launch. He was also told that the Uptimers had the situation under control.

Both men had remained in their pressure suits during the flight to high orbit. Gorbachev patiently waited and kept his hands to himself as the Soyuz approached the Eagle. He had no idea how to read the gauges aboard the spacecraft and touched nothing because he wanted to avoid a fatal foul up.

“Damn...” Said Leonov. “There was just a jump in neutron readings, then it’s gone.”

“What does it mean?” Said Gorbachev.

“No idea, it could be natural.” Said Leonov. “But I would seriously reconsider any plans for fatherhood.”

Suddenly an unfamiliar voice in Russian spoke over the ground to space communications channel.

“Soyuz spacecraft, this is the starship Eagle, do you copy?’

Leonov answered.

“Yes Eagle, we copy.”

“Very good, as we do not have a docking port that is compatible with the Soyuz we wish to bring you aboard through one of our landing craft airlocks, will that be a problem?”

Leonov turned to look at Gorbachev. Gorbachev looked back and shook his head.

“No, Eagle” Said Leonov. “That will not be a problem.”

On the command deck Boatman turned to Captain Sterling.

“Right, do it as we planned.”

In the mission control center in Moscow the Mission Director listened as Leonov sent a progress report on the contact with the Uptimers. But then a mid-level Party Man who was sent to supervise the mission suddenly jumped up and shouted.

“No!” He shouted. “No! Stop the docking! It is forbidden to surrender state secrets!”

“What state secrets?” Said the Mission Director.

“The Soyuz spacecraft! It’s at the front line of Soviet technology!”

The Mission Director and others in the room shook their heads.

“There has already been a discussion on this. The Star People are from the 24th Century, to them the Soyuz is a historic relic, and there are no state secrets to preserve.”

A KGB Colonel in uniform in the mission control center then spoke.

“Comrade, They are using Thermonuclear Fusion as the power source for their auxiliary generators. And their primary power plant uses the effects of a frozen star at the microscopic level to generate thrust and power.”

The Colonel was assigned to the project to understand the Uptimers and had read the translated transcript of the 60 Minutes broadcast. He then asked a friend at Moscow University to explain the concept of the Quantum Singularity.

“You may as well classify the plans for an old winter sleigh.” He said. “In any case, perhaps you should take a break from the stress of this situation.”

The way the Colonel had phrased it was an order and not a suggestion. The Party Man looked at the two junior KGB officers who had just stood up behind the Colonel.

“Perhaps, I should.” The party man replied.

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