Moon Base 2028
The agitation that had driven First Lieutenant Sybil Hunter from her quarters in the barracks to the Cosmos observation center eased as the lack of activity reflected on the huge screens caught her attention. For a solid week, dozens of workers had been carefully going over the hull of the colony ship, searching for micro-meteor holes to patch. The ship--as yet to have its maiden voyage--had been liberally peppered with them during the transition from external shielding to internal, forcing a frantic search and patch operation before the tiny holes could seriously jeopardize the hull's integrity.
They were conspicuous now by their absence. Undoubtedly, they'd finished and withdrawn inside the ship once more to help the others working on finishing the ship's interior.
It was amazing how often the simplest things worked best, Sybil reflected. Not that they knew yet whether it would in this particular case, but every study and every calculation had pointed to a high probability of success. After the finest minds had wracked their brains for a solution to the 'gravity problem' for decades and come up empty-handed, they'd finally decided to give the 'harebrained' solution a try and it looked like it was going to work.
Of course moving an asteroid the size of this one out of the asteroid belt and into roughly the same orbit as the moon hadn't been an easy task by any stretch of the imagination! The fact that it had its own gravity had only made it that much harder, but then there wouldn't have been any point to the delicate operation if it hadn't!
Desperate times called for desperate measures, however. Poised to begin full scale colonization of Mars, they already had over a million volunteers signed up and the buses built a decade earlier to carry scientists, colonists, and sightseers to the moon were woefully inadequate for the task. Although advances in the past decade had resulted in ships that could make the trip to Mars and back three times faster than they'd been able to manage back in the teens and early twenties when they'd established the first bases for scientific studies, ferrying the colonists already signed up for land on the new world was a daunting task. With more people eager to escape the Earth and forge a new life on Mars every day, it had begun to seem an impossible task.
The U.S.S. Cosmos had been the solution, but it had its own problems. Although big enough to carry nearly a hundred thousand colonists at the time, the ship was far slower than the smaller crafts they'd built. It would take nearly six months to make the round trip, and that meant that the colonists weren't going to be in any shape to begin working when they arrived--not at nearly zero gravity. It would take months of rehabilitation to get them in shape even though Mars' gravity was only 38% of Earth's. The combination of 'gravity' suits, which worked in conjunction with electro-magnetic forces, and 'artificial gravity' created by centrifugal force used on the Moon colony wasn't practical, even if it could be done--and everyone had been pretty convinced that it couldn't--not on that scale.
It was critical to the success of the Mars colonization project that the colonists be able to start to work when they arrived. The Mars colonist dormitory/holding/and processing facility was being completed even as the final touches were being completed on the U.S.S. Cosmos. It was fully stocked to house them for at least a year, but resources were at a premium and would be until the colonists began to produce their own goods. The first colonists needed to complete their personal habitats and begin growing their own food within the first six months or it would seriously jeopardize the chances of the next group and every group thereafter.
So--the harebrained solution thought up by a pseudo-scientist who had no idea what sort of complications might arise from capturing and then building a ship around an asteroid with its own gravity. It had actually made construction of the ship much easier. Flying it was going to be a real bitch, but if they could manage it the colonists would arrive on Mars in excellent condition.
She was to have been a member of the crew that would take the Cosmos on its maiden voyage.
She shook her head as if she could shake the thought, but it was stuck, had been since she'd gotten her orders the day before.
Her stomach knotted with anxiety. As much as she hated to admit it, even to herself, the 'emergency mission' she'd been reassigned to scared the piss out of her. She supposed, wryly, that it was crazy to be unnerved when she'd been prepared to take a flight on the totally experimental craft she was looking at, but she had confidence that the new design was going to outperform anything built before. She didn't have a hell of a lot of confidence in the hastily re-outfitted ship that was to take her in the opposite direction--to Venus.
There hadn't been a single damned probe launched toward Venus in well over a decade, though! From the time Earth had entered its climate change and the situation on Earth had begun to decline rapidly all eyes were on the Moon and Mars. Neither had seemed like mankind's last hope or a port in the storm before the climate change, but it hadn't taken very many natural disasters to make them look better and better, despite the challenges of living on the Moon and Mars.
A lot of people were still waiting for Armageddon, she thought wryly, but unlike the frog in the slowly heating pot of water, some of the 'frogs' had woke up and discovered they were already in the middle of Armageddon, not waiting for it to arrive.
Shaking the thought, she glanced at her watch, muttered a curse under her breath, and left the observatory. She hardly noticed the transition from centrifugal weight to magnetic as she moved from the observatory into the corridor that connected it to the administration building. It had taken some getting used to when she'd first arrived, but she'd acclimated in the two months she'd been stationed on the moon base.
The shift in 'pull' from overall--the centrifugal force of revolving buildings against her entire anatomy--to strictly external with the drag of magnetism against her grav suit still made her stomach flutter uncomfortably with a sense of weightlessness, but she'd ceased to really notice it. It also wasn't nearly as much of a challenge to step from the corridor into the next revolving structure as it had been at first. With barely a pause to adjust her stride, she stepped from the corridor into the main lobby, glanced around, and headed toward the conference room.
Her crewmates were already assembled in the conference room and they didn't look any happier to be there than she was.
After saluting her superior officer, Major Reed Powell, and exchanging salutes with Corporal Thomas Spencer, she moved toward the conference table where the two civilian scientists who would be accompanying them, Dipak Kushbu and Holly Rains, were already seated.
She'd been training for the Mars mission with Major Powell and Corporal Spencer since her arrival and knew them in a strictly professional capacity. She hadn't so much as lain eyes on Dr. Kushbu or Dr. Rains before, but since Kushbu was east Indian it wasn't difficult to figure out who was who.
Dr. Rains nodded a greeting and moved a hand that shook faintly toward the control of the holographic display in the center of the table. An image appeared that sent a shockwave through Sybil.
Dr. Rains smiled thinly when she'd observed the reactions of everyone at the table. "As you can see, Venus looks a good bit different than it did before. These are the pictures we managed to take with the probe we ... uh ... appropriated before it malfunctioned."