• Contributing Author

Tanks Alot - Part 4

Chapter 9

The next day the wait was over and they had arrived on station to find the scans were accurate, there was roughly egg shaped ball of platinum 430 meters by 328 meters embedded in a large rocky asteroid about a third of the way. The Juarez wasted no time in starting and by the end of the day they had 3 full pans of platinum and part of another one ready for tomorrow. At this rate Cap figured it would be about another 3 weeks till they were full.

Over the next three weeks the crew was busy slicing off platinum and eating spicy foods. Only 19 days after getting there, the Juarez was full of platinum. Hiroko had done the math and they were going a bit to fast, She worried that, by time they get back to Ares, the asteroid they called Anvil she had started on its way those weeks ago, would be near the window of impact. She knew she may have to improvise a delay. Hiroko would do a quick scan when they were a week out from Ares and adjust.

The trip back to Ares was both jubilant and nerve wracking for all with the race against time on everyone's mind. Hiroko sat at her console biding her time, at two weeks out she would check in a week and recalculate. Her console made a small pop noise and went dark, the air had a slight acrid smell to it. Cap heard it too, He punched his loudspeaker button, "Donny come up to the bridge, Nav console just went dark". A few minutes later Donny showed up with Jeff and some totes full of tools and equipment. He crawled under the console and removed the access panel, letting more stench into the room. Donny blew the smoke away and frowned to discover the brand new power supply was fried. "It's the power supply, It will take about 10 minutes to change and I may need to reboot the console". Cap acknowledged the information with a nod and murmur. Hiroko moved out of the way so he could work, all the while inwardly panicking, the reboot will show Anvil out of place.

Donny worked quickly and replaced the destroyed part. He plugged in his backup copy of the console programming, and started the reboot. After a few minutes he took it out of diagnostic mode to return to normal operations and immediately an alarm sounded. All eyes looked to the console and all could see there was new body that had never been seen before. Cap looked surprised, and said "where did that come from"? "Are you sure that the reboot is correct"? he asked Donny. Donny shrugged, "I think so, I can do it again if you want". Cap looked at Hiroko, "Run a scan on it".

Hiroko's mind worked quickly, and she knew there is no way to fake anything with all the eyes on her, so she ran the scan.

The data came back quickly and it showed it was an iron/nickel body approximately 2 kilometers by 1 kilometer moving towards the inner solar system. Cap noticed immediately that it was just like Anvil. "Hiroko, scan anvil, and tell me it's still where we left it". Hiroko once again knew she was boxed in and couldn't fake anything. She ran the scan, "Anvil is missing". Cap was puzzled, "What's it trajectory"? Hiroko ran another scan that would tell what she already knew, "It's heading towards Ares"!

She reported with enough emotion to hopefully sell her surprise. Cap's eyes grew big, "are you sure, double check that". She ran the scan again, "yes definitely on a collision course".

Cap ordered Hiroko to plot an intercept course, "Donny how much can we speed up with this load"? Donny looked worried, "I'm not sure I'll head to engineering and let you know". Cap went to Hiroko’s console and stood behind her. She knew a sloppy course setting would be noticed, so she put in the correct parameters for the best intercept time. Donny’s voice came over the comms, “I can get us another 6% on speed”. Cap told Hiroko to “Increase speed 6% and recalculate”. Cap then told Hiroko to contact Ares. "Get me Martin Scofield".

After a short time Martin's voice came back, "What's going on Marcus, Are you guys in trouble"? Cap responded immediately but knew there would be a communications delay at this distance. "No, but you are, Anvil is on a collision course with Ares, I will send you the scan data and we are moving to intercept, but we won't be within range of it for a few days".

A short time later Martin voice came back, "I hate to tell you this, but we show Anvil where it's supposed to be".

Cap was immediately confused. Cap looked at her and said, "Hiroko run the diagnostic on your console, I hope we are wrong, I would rather look stupid that be right". Hiroko could only go through the motions that would prove Anvil was moving" Once again the scans showed trouble.

Cap sent another message, "Martin, we ran every scan, Anvil its heading your way fast". The wait for a response seemed to take hours instead of minutes.

"Marcus, you are right, we ran diagnostics and had to reboot the scanner, it's heading right for us". "Update me on the intercept efforts, I am going to work on evacuation protocols". "God helps us all". The communication ended abruptly leaving Cap staring at a blank screen.

Donny's voice came over the speaker, "we can increase speed enough to intercept in 5 days". Cap nodded to himself, and said "Do it".

Chapter 10

The next five days were busy formulating plans and options. There were three ships at Ares and all were being hurriedly fitted for human transport, to evacuate the station. Even with all their efforts they would only be able to get out about half. Cap didn't envy Martin's position at the station, where ultimately he would be left with the decision about who to leave behind. No other ship could reach the station in time.

During these five days there was also a discussion between Cap, Gary and Hillary about how Anvil got on a collision course. While it's true asteroids orbits can change, it usually needs the pull of another body, and there is nothing near enough to do that. The fact that both their scanners and Ares scanners were off suggested some foul play.

Gary tried to sound reasonable, like he was talking to a small child, but just came off condescending, "It must be one of the tanks who messed with the sensors and had one of their kind do the same on Ares".

Hillary rolled her eyes and sighed, "You assume they are responsible for every evil in the universe, Why would they do that? Even now only half will be saved, and what half do you think will be left behind? What is their motivation for this"?

Gary was not dissuaded, "Worth obviously, the one that did it on Ares has probably already left the stations well before now and whichever one or ones here is safe. They don't care about their own kind if it helps themselves".

Hillary exploded "Do you hear yourself, you have no idea what motivates any tank born because you only listen to you own prejudice".

The debate continued for over an hour with nothing getting accomplished but stirring the pot. Cap ended it with a hard slam of his hands on the table. Cap locked each of there eyes in turn, "This is getting us nowhere, get some rest, tomorrow we will try to save a station".

Late the next day the Juarez intercepted Anvil. The giant hunk of metal looked calmly serene as it was speeding towards it’s tragic target. The sunlight actually was glistening on the lighted side of Anvil. The ship eased along side in a slow and careful approach. Cap had everyone ready to go as soon as they were in position. Hiroko maneuvered the Juarez along side of Anvil, and slowly turned ever so slightly away from Anvil every hour or so. This had the effect of the Juarez mass acting like a gravity tractor and slowly attracting Anvil off its current course. All of the tugs launched and positioned themselves on the other side and used their magnetic fields to create a repelling force. Donny programmed all six drones to go out, make physical contact at certain points and use their thrust to push.

They had 22 hours before impact. According to Hiroko's calculations they would be able to turn it enough to save Ares. She might still be able to salvage this situation. Cap was forever monitoring the distances and positioning, so there's no way to not play that game, but if she could bleed some of the Juarez magnetic field off to counter the tugs, its might just be enough to hit.

Cap told Hiroko, "Go grab a snack and a quick nap, I'll drive, then you can relieve me in a couple hours". Hiroko yawned and nodded agreement. She got up and left the room as if nothing was going on. Her mind raced with this opportunity. There would be no time for a snack or a nap. She needed every moment to program a sensor hack that would not only cover her tracks but run the magnetic field bleed.

Two hours later to the minute Hiroko entered the bridge ready to relive Cap and begin her plan. Cap looked up and gave a tired smile of relief. "We are making some headway, I think this will work". Hiroko played the part of looking hopeful by looking into Cap’s eyes and giving a quick nod. She sat down as Cap vacated her chair. Donny was sitting at the engineering console monitoring the drones.

Hiroko glanced at Donny to make sure he was still engrossed in his duties, then quietly plugged in the memory stick and downloaded her hack. The magnetic field weakening program did its job and making her programmed changes and then deleted itself.

Martin Scofield was staring at the scanner back on Ares and feeling like his prayers might be answered. The ever so small course changes that Anvil was making might be enough. Nevertheless he continued with the evacuation plans. There was little more that could be done, The three ships here had been converted into habitation ships. They would be able to rescue 1238 people into tight but survivable conditions. That left 537 beings left with no chance but luck and prayer. All civilians had already been loaded as well as many tank born that could fit. There were enough escape pods for another 250 but they didn't have the duration to survive before the nearest ship could get here. He was here with the other 536 for whatever their fate was.

Martin offered the escape pod option to anyone who wanted it, but surprisingly no one took it, they seemed to prefer a quick death over suffocating while floating in a pod. Martin cursed himself for not foreseeing this eventuality. Everyone thought Ares was indestructible, the irony of the Titanic similarity was not lost on him. He checked the progress of Anvil yet again. He lost track of how many times he looked impotently at the screen. The slow but steady shift in trajectory had slowed way down. He also knew the physics of how a body in motion wanted to stay in motion, but the loss of change had surprised him, perhaps it had to do with the continued acceleration of Anvil?

Cap returned to the bridge after a quick nap and snack, "Status report"? he asked as he was entering. Hiroko looked up and said "the rate of deflection has dropped off". Cap looked puzzled, "dropped off"? "Why"? Hiroko shook her head slightly, "Not sure" she said. Donny looked over at her upon hearing that news, and quickly checked a different subroutine on his console. "Cap, Our magnetic field is not up to full strength" said Donny with confusion. Before Cap could process that information, Donny said "There it's back up to full strength, I have no idea how that happened but I will watch it like a hawk"

Cap nodded and sat in his command chair. "What do the scans show about trajectory, are we still on collision course"? Hiroko ran another scan, silently cursing Donny for fixing her sabotage. "So far it still looks like it will hit, but it has shifted some" she said with genuine worry in her voice. No one else knew her concern was for a very different reason than theirs.

Time seemed to move slower than the seasons, they had been at this for 21 hours. The tug crews had been at it for the entire time without any breaks, Just sitting in tugs manipulating a magnetic field. The confines of the tug had a small area they could stand and stretch as well as use a bathroom. Everyone had eaten all of the supplies they had brought and were getting hungry. Theana was rubbing her eyes and trying to stay awake. "I wonder if this is going to be enough" thought Theana for the thousandth time. The area of Anvil where she was positioned was a zone they had not started to mine yet, It was still mostly iron/nickel with streaks of rocky material going through it. The pattern reminded her of marbling on a steak, at least that's what the picture of one she saw once looked like. The tug crew had been very quiet these last few hours, even on their own channel.

Ares was coming up fast, usually they never made an approach at this speed, Anvil had shifted almost enough. Cap called out to the tugs " it’s going to be very close, but you guys better dock or get caught up in the debris field that's likely to happen". Cap knew that they could all get docked in about 30 minutes if they hurried, he was still cutting it close, and hoping.

Theana heard Cap and prepared to disengage. Shila's voice came over the coms channel. "How close"? There was a short pause, Cap's voice came back "Too close to call". Shila's small voice answered. "Cap, I'm staying”. Theana heard her and knew her voice all to well, scared but determined. Cap answered "Negative get back here, if it doesn't work you will be killed". She was not to be stopped. "No Cap, if there is a chance, we have to try". Theana was both irritated and proud of her, "I'm staying too Cap, unless the scan show it will miss, everyone on that station is dead". Dris chimed in "I'm in", followed by Ty "Yep, me too, all of you will starve without Theana, so make it work".

Cap was surprised and a little miffed at being challenged, but had to admire the bravery. "Guys get back now while you can". Then Gary's voice came onto the channel, he was probably down in the docking bay. "Get your asses back now, you heard Cap, that's an order! Those tugs are not your property, you are property". Up on the bridge Cap fumed because he knew there was no way they were going to dock now. Theana's voice sounded "Put it on my tab, if there's a chance to save the station we are staying".

Gary stormed onto the bridge "Cap they are being insubordinate, they need to get back here or they are putting us in danger too". Cap stared at Gary "I know you hate the tank born, but they know nearly 600 of their brothers and sisters will die if this fails". "Try to remember that the next time you claim they don't care about anything". Cap looked up with resolution, "OK let's ride this all they way".

Chapter 11

The next 48 minutes would be the longest of their lives. "How's it looking"? Theana asked again. Cap answered, "We are close, really close but not positive". "What if we make contact and push directly with the tugs"? offered Shila. Donny's voice answered, "The tugs will get damaged and possibly lose environmental, then we lose a tug and it's push force".

Hiroko stared at her console, and said, "Cap, Theana is out of position". Cap looked over and asked, "Theana, what are you doing"? There was no answer as she maneuvered her tug towards the Juarez. Gary smugly said "See I told you they don't care, she must be docking". Her tug went past the docking bay and seemed to hover at the back of the ship. "Donny, release pan 57, i have it latched" transmitted Theana.

Cap immediately saw here plan. "Donny, release it". Theana dragged pan 57 back to her spot on the side of Anvil and backed into it using the pan as a buffer. She placed the pan in direct contact with Anvil and began to push. The pan began to deform, under the strain of the tug, now at full thrust against the seemingly immovable object.

Cap asked Hiroko, "Any change"? Hiroko knew she had no lee way to lie so she acknowledged, "yes a slight increase in shift". Cap smiled the first smile of hope in the last 5 days. "OK one at a time go grab a pan, Shila, go get 56, then Dris 55, and Ty 54". Enthusiastic rogers flooded the channel. The loss of each tugs force was noticed while they equipped the pans, but once all were back in place and pushing the shift increased.

Cap didn't think time could move even slower, yet those 17 minutes were glacial. Ares loomed on the main screen and the deflection course was still showing a distance count down in red numbers, that indicated contact. He hoped that maybe some would live, if it hits it will be a glancing blow on the skinny side. This was wishful thinking though, a glancing blow would either still crack or shatter the base, or if it survived it would have a rotational momentum that no human body could withstand.

Hillary came to the bridge, looked at the screen and her eyes started to mist over. She was not a pilot or a navigator but all her years in space gave her the background to understand that 8 minutes is not much time to save Ares.

Theana called out to Donny, "Can we get anymore thrust out of these pigs"? Donny's voice came back "Maybe, hang on". There was an interminable delay. "OK I transmitted the codes to turn the fuel fail safes off". "You were restricted to 2000 before now you can raise the fuel input manually, at 2450 you run very serious risks of thermal instability and could explode". "At 3000 you explode for sure".

Theana adjusted the fuel flow gradually getting up to 2400. that seemed stable but was definitely louder. "I'm up to 2400 and it seems stable, you guys try it" Along Anvil four tugs pushed just a little bit harder.

On the bridge of the Juarez all eyes watched the numbers slowly shift while the distance got ever nearer. Donny came to the bridge to check progress, and at 4 minutes and 23 seconds till impact the countdown still showed red.

No one said anything as the time slowly ticked down, and all eyes were on the main screen. Cap knew for the safety of the ship he would need to alter course very soon, in fact he should have already. 3 minutes 39 seconds. With a heavy sigh he told Hiroko to break off and move away from Ares. 3 minutes and 4 seconds.

Hiroko quickly complied, with an inward sigh of relief that her plan might still work.

Hillary gasped. "It's green" Sure enough the distances showed green, indicating a miss. "You did it, veer off "! exclaimed Cap. The tugs all changed course to avoid the rapidly approaching Ares base, and Anvil continued on. Hillary put her hands together in a prayer position and let out a long sigh, followed by by tears of joy cascading down her cheeks. Cap slumped in his chair as if an enormous weight had been lifted and sat silent. The others were cheering and expelling sighs of relief, except Hiroko, who stoically sat at her station.

Anvil obliterated some reflective pans that reflect light for the hydroponic area sending a shower of debris in many directions. Some of the debris impacted the Juarez but bounced harmlessly off the sturdy pans. More of the debris did hit Ares base causing some damage, but very repairable. The still accelerating metal body had missed Ares base by less than 100 meters.

The cheers on the bridge and on frequency drowned each other out for a minute or so, then Hiroko said "Martin is on channel Cap". Cap nodded and answered "Are you guys OK down there"? Martins clearly relieved voice came back, "We are now, you magnificent bastard". Cap laughed "It was a team effort, but the tug crews made all the difference". "We will head in once we collect everyone". Cap let out another sigh of relief, "Hiroko, take us back to Ares".

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