• Contributing Author

Tanks Alot - Part 5

Chapter 12

Hiroko knew her plan had failed, hopefully she will get some credit for a near miss. She slowed the ship and began an approach back to Ares, to be in position for unloading the pans, and recovering the tugs. Hiroko also as an after thought, decided to scan Anvil for its new course data.

The Juarez was slowly gliding into the outer orbital parking spot that would be the pan collection point. The tugs had already docked and the crews were getting a quick snack before a well deserved sleep. The mood was euphoric, everyone not only expected a huge payday from the platinum, but many free drinks.

Hiroko's scan was complete, and the results shocked her. Anvil missed Ares but the amount of course deflection now put it on a collision course with earth. Hiroko inwardly panicked, Had her efforts doomed earth and her brother on it? "Cap, Anvil is now heading to earth"! Cap looked at her stunned, "What did you say"? Hiroko took a deep breath, "Anvil is heading to earth now, and according to the scans it will hit in 12 days 13 hours and 47 minutes". "Right now, impact will be western Africa".

"Son of a bitch", yelled Cap. "Plot another intercept course, and haul ass". Hiroko quickly complied and got the Juarez going in record time. Her motivations were completely different now, she had to save Kenji. If Anvil hit the earth, it would be a planetary extinction event. She redid the scan and started to compile data for the next planning phase. It was going to take another 6 hours to catch Anvil.

The coms channel sounded on the bridge, with Martin's voice, "Where are you guys going, you will miss a big party"? Cap responded, "Chasing that hunk of iron again, it's heading to earth". "Oh my God, are you sure"? Martin asked. Cap's sigh said it all, Yes we are sure and we have 12 days to fix it".

Cap's next transmission was to Luna Command, he told the whole tale, and the conversation verified his orders to intercept and attempt to alter it's course again. They would also send 2 ships to help but they wouldn't be in position for 5 days. Anvil would continuously be accelerating, Hiroko's calculations said they would only be able to keep up with it by the 12th day, then it would be to fast.

Cap called over the intercom, "Donny come to the bridge". A few minutes later Donny ambled onto the bridge with a big smile on his face, expecting pleasant information. Donny saw Caps face and was suddenly concerned. He noticed they were also chasing Anvil again. "What's up Cap"? asked Donny.

"We need to deflect Anvil again, it's heading to Earth and we have 12 and half days to do it". "Luna Command is sending another 2 ships to help but they won't intercept for 5 days". "We will intercept in just under 6 hours". "You have 5 or so hours to get the tugs repaired and refueled, can you do it"?

Donny was stunned at this new information, he recovered from his shock, "Yes, I'll get right on it, the tugs will be ready in time". Cap looked grimly at Donny, "Keep this quiet from the tug drivers, I want them to be able to sleep". Donny ran out of the room to get started.

Hillary had come onto the bridge just as Cap had told the story to Donny, she said "Cap, the tug crews are exhausted". Cap nodded, "I know, but we need to get them back out there, they can rest for a few hours at least". Hillary quietly left the bridge.

Over the next few hours Cap had a meeting with the rest of the crew that was not asleep, the tug drivers, knew nothing of the new development, and they deserved what sleep they could steal. The conversation, was lively at times, but had a desperate and somber tone to it. The two best options discussed so far was slamming the Juarez into Anvil, with its speed and mass there was an 80% chance it would be enough to make it miss earth. The other was variations on the push and gravity pull they used to miss Ares. The problems with the old technique was that Anvil was increasing speed and the forces they could bring to bear were diminishing by the moment.

Hiroko was pushing for the impact method passionately, no one knew it was desperation and guilt that guided her thoughts.

Theana had come down the hall to the galley as Hiroko was saying "Slamming the Juarez into it is the best shot of success"! Theana entered to room with shock and confusion on her face. "What the hell are you talking about, What is going on"?

Cap looked up "What are you doing up so soon"?

Theana reacted with annoyance, "Shes talking about ramming the ship into something, and you have questions about my sleep schedule"?

Cap couldn't help laugh at the absurdity of his question. "Your right, here's what's going on, Anvil missed Ares and is now heading to earth and we have just over 12 days to stop it".

Theana stood in shocked silence. Hiroko, offered up, "Our best chance is to knock it out of the way with the speed and mass of a Juarez impact, and I calculate an 80% success rate.

Theana digested this news, "What is the other 20%"? Hiroko nodded, "The unknowns of how Anvil will react to the impact, if it just shatters and maintains course, then the damage to earth will be about the same".

Theana looked at Hiroko in disbelief, "So let me get this straight, you want to death ram that hunk of metal and hope it's enough". "If it doesn't shatter, and that's a big if, we won't be there to push the smaller pieces around".

Gary didn't like Theana's tone. "What do you know about the physics of moving bodies"

"Well, Sir" she said in the most condescending tone she could muster, "I know that Anvil is mostly metal but it has rocky divides that permeate it's structure". She went on staring straight at Gary. "If you had ever been close up to it, or ever looked at a scan, you might know that".

Gary hated being disrespected by a mere tank, his face was turning red and his sputtering response was silenced by Cap's reaction. "That's right it does, Hiroko can you map the rocky boundaries"? Hiroko's eyes widened immediately knowing what to look for, "Yes, Give me 20 minutes", and she ran from the room.

Everyone in the room but Gary, was now thinking that if Anvil could be split up into more manageable chunks, they might be able to save earth or at least lessen the damage.

Gary was still focused on Theana, his rage needing an outlet, "How dare you speak to me like that"? His outburst was immediately interrupted by Cap, "Gary" he said loudly to get his attention, "She has given us the best hope we have of fixing this". Gary was now confused, he knew she said something in a disrespectful tone, but couldn't remember what it was. He decided to stay quiet and try to figure out what it was before he sounded like an idiot.

Hiroko ran back into the room, "This is possible, Anvil can be broken into about 7 smaller chunks, 5 of which we can push away no problem, but the other two are still, problematic".

Everyone looked concerned but cautiously optimistic. Cap asked "How problematic"?

Hiroko continued, "Of the remaining two, one accounts for about half the mass of the entire body and the other is about 20%". She went on, "With the other ships intercepting in five days we have a chance to stop those two".

Theana added, "We can drill into the rocky fissures and place some explosives, but getting them deep enough might be a problem".

"Perhaps we can do systematic explosions, and kind of pry the pieces apart" suggested Donny. Theana agreed, "It's worth a shot".

Cap was feeling better about these options and flow of ideas, for the first time in the last 4 hours he had hope. "OK we have about 90 minutes to intercept, let's get to work". Donny blew out his breath in exasperation, "I just got the tugs configured for the pushing, but I'll get them reconfigured for drilling in time". He gestured to Jeff to come with him. "We have quite a bit of work to do fast".

Theana went to the food prep area and started making meals for the tug pilots to take. Everyone else went back to their various posts with cautious hope.

When they were 30 minutes from intercept, Hillary went and woke the other tug pilots and quickly told them the situation. Then next 20 minutes showed a flurry of activity ending with all tugs manned and ready to go. True to his word Donny had reconfigured the tugs for drilling and Hiroko had download the target specs to each tug. The first targets were going to be the small pieces they could dissect easily.

The drilling went well for the first two hours and the explosives were placed. That part was easy because that was the area they had been mining before. Once all explosives were placed, the tugs moved to a position on the other side of Anvil. Donny wasted no time in remotely detonating the payload. Theana couldn't see the explosion from her position on the other side, but knew from experience that it would be a silent jet of material spewing from the cracks. The tug crews moved back into position and observed 3 different chunks of Anvil slowly drifting away from the main body.

Hiroko's voice came over the comms, "That will work, we just need to put a drone on each of them and they will miss".



Chapter 13

Theana went back to her drilling area and saw a newly exposed fat rocky vein. She immediately started in on that. The others commented on similar finds, The next 3 hours found them slowly widening the fissures enough to place another round of explosives.

Once again the tugs went to the other side of Anvil, and Donny set off the blast. Hiroko did an immediate scan of all the pieces involved and got mixed results. Cap awaited the results while staring at Hiroko, willing her response to come even sooner. She sighed, "Well good news and bad news, The last explosion broke off the other 2 chunks, but they have stayed attached to each other". She went on, "That means we either spend precious time and energy to break them up further, or spend longer trying to push them out of the way".

Cap didn't like either option, but needed more data to decide.

Hiroko was busily running some calculations at her console. "I think we can put 2 drones on it and if we refuel them all the way in, it should miss.

Cap nodded acknowledgment, "Donny re-target drones 4 and 5 and put them on the new rock". Time always seemed to drag for Cap, usually just sitting in his chair while everyone attended to their work. However the last days had taken their toll on him, never had the stakes been so high. The next twelve days were going to be very long and hard, and they would all need to be on top of their game. Cap called Hillary and Gary to the bridge.

Hillary was the first to enter, her face wondering what else could be wrong. Gary followed a minute later. Cap wasted no time once Gary arrived and began. "The next twelve days will be brutal, so we need rotations on the important stations". "Gary you and I will rotate on 8 hours shifts, we will operate all bridge stations", Gary nodded. Cap then addressed Hilary, "The tug crews can't be out there for 12 days straight, so you, Hiroko and Spence will need to learn how to operate a tug". Hillary saw the need and was willing to do her part, but added, "That still only gets relief to 3 tugs, what about the other one"? Cap agreed, "I know, the drivers will need to work longer shifts in their rotations". He continued, "I don't see any other way, Donny and Jeff will need their own rotation, that just leaves you three as spares".

Hillary looked determined, and somewhat relieved that there was a way she could help. She went to go find Spence so they could learn how to operate a tug. Hopefully this won't be a "crash" course she thought.

Gary was in agreement and simply asked "When do you want me to relieve you" Cap checked the time, "Come back at 1800 hours".

Hiroko said, "I am familiar with tug operations, I am concerned about their ability to learn drilling techniques in such a short time". Cap simply said "Me too". Hiroko said "Well if you have the bridge, I will go take a short nap, before my tug shift". Hiroko left the bridge doubting she would get much sleep.

The next six hours had people drilling, learning tug operations and trying to get to sleep, only the drilling was very successful. The tugs had made 27 pilot holes for explosive packets and had another 43 to go before the first blast try.

Gary showed up a few minutes before 1800 with a steaming mug of coffee in his hand. Cap looked tired as well as enviously at the coffee. Gary was oblivious of Cap's condition, more focused on the situation at hand. "What's the progress"? Cap got up and stretched, while answering him, his voice having a strain to it as his stretching progressed. "They have 27 holes so far, Theana has convinced me to extend their shifts, for efficiency sake". Gary couldn't argue with that logic, "How much longer do they estimate"? Cap yawned again, "She said maybe 10 hours, either way I will be back by then". Cap turned and left the bridge.

Over the next 10 hours, the tug crews drilled all the necessary holes and placed the explosives. Cap was back on the bridge and Donny was ready to send the detonation transmission. The tugs were on the safe side of Anvil and Cap gave the order. Cap knew there is no sound in space but the screens on the bridge showed a spray of ejecta from the fissures.

Cap hoped that would do it but he knew that was a long shot. He recalled the tugs, Shila volunteered to stay extra, This would be over 24 hours before she would be relived. The other exhausted drivers took turns docking and the new drivers heading back out. Donny oversaw the resupplying of each tug as well as a quick overview with each new driver. Spence seemed nervous, but Hillary was actually excited.

Gary was in command during the next shift change. Ty had come back 4 hours early to relive Shila and he approved it. The less experienced crews did manage to drill 17 new holes, but the placement of the explosive would wait for a more capable crew.

The next shift change still had tank born crews, with another 9 holes yet to be drilled. Theana was the one to stay this time and she would also placed the charges, while the others were drilling. During that shift all holes were drilled and filled. Cap once again gave the order and another wave of charges rocked Anvil.

Cap ran a scan and saw there was still one area that was connected. Discussions between Cap and tugs planned another 30 holes, that might do it. If this worked then the other tug drivers would just have to push. This was a much less skilled position.

Things were proceeding well and only a few holes remained. Theana was maneuvering Tug 1 into a very tight crevice. Her drilling was almost at her maximum depth. Soon she could place the last of her explosives.

The drilling and explosions had weakened the boundary between the final two pieces of Anvil. Some of the rocky material that had existed in that position for 4 billion years or so, now cracked. The two metallic bodies shifted slightly, if there was sound, it would have registered as a mighty rumble. Tugs 2, 3, and 4 by luck were not affected. Theana, in Tug 1 was surprised as her previously tight space shrank by half. Theana let out a grunt of sudden pain. The front half of her tug was now pinched. The drilling apparatus destroyed, and her console crushed on the left side. Theana shook off her surprise, and now registered intense pain in her left leg. The console support structure had sheared off and now impaled her thigh. The strut that once held the left side of the console was now a part of her leg. The mist of blood was floating out of the wound. A flap of meat was peeled back and oozing more blood. One advantage of being tank born was, better ability to control pain. She did not panic, and first grabbed her helmet to combat the slow leak in cockpit atmosphere. She could reach the med kit and wrapped the wound as best as she could and covered it with medical salve. The pain was intense but getting better, between her genetics and the salve.

Her next move was to finally answer the calls on comms. She was glad the hear everyone else was OK, but told them her tug is lost. She described her situation Shila immediately said "I'm coming to get you"

No one could see her but she shook her head no. "I'm pinned". Shila was not deterred, "I heard you, Eject and I will collect you". Once again she shook her head and spoke, "No you don't understand, I'm pinned, part of the console has speared my leg to the seat". There was silence.

"There's nothing we can do, we need to keep going", said Theana with calm in her voice. Shila wouldn't accept that. "No"! "I am not losing my sister like this, get your ass out here....Now".

Theana was glad no one could see the tears in her eyes from the love she felt from Shy. She took a deep breath and transmitted, "Donny, you said the engines will blow at 3000 right"? There was silence, then Donny's voice responded, "Yes that's true, Maybe even sooner". She took another deep breath and with it came a new resolve. "OK, I'm going to transfer throttle control to you, time it with the other blasts".

Cap knew this was the only move, but he cursed at his impotence to change the situation. With tears in his eyes he said, "We will let you know when it's ready, should be soon". The other tugs went to finish the last holes, except Shila, who refused to leave Theana's tug.

The tugs were done in about 15 minutes and everyone knew the horrible event was near. Theana was preparing herself for the end. She wondered if it would hurt, or what will happen to Shila, or who will do the cooking? She shock her head a bit and wondered how strong the stuff in that med salve is? Her thoughts were interrupted by another shift that crushed her tug some more. The result of that, her console was ripped away in front of her, along with the piece holding her in place. She looked at the torn flesh of her leg, and wondered "Is that what steak looks like"? She grabbed another piece of the rip-stop material she had used to seal the first wound and covered the gaping hole that had once been her thigh. Theana could now escape her seat and hoped the hatch wasn't damaged, as her body rotated and twisted in the zero gravity environment her hopes skyrocketed. There before her was the clearly undamaged hatch. She was repeatedly transmitting that she was free, but her comms were no longer working. Shila was inconsolable and had refused to move to the safe side of Anvil, but hovered outside the crack and just off to the side out of the blast zone.

Cap knew the race against the clock they were in and reluctantly gave the order that would kill a crew member. Down in engineering Donny heard the angst in Cap’s voice as he said detonate, and with eyes watering reached for the ignition switch.

Shila's voice screamed, "Abort, Abort, Abort" Cap heard that and started to reissue the order to detonate, knowing Shila can't accept this horrible situation. Shila's voice screamed again, "Abort, I see her, she's free of the tug," "Abort, Abort, Abort".

Cap couldn't believe his ears, "Abort, Abort, Abort, Donny" There was no need for Cap to say that, once he heard Shila's first transmission, he pulled his hand from the controls, like it was on fire.

Cap didn't realize he was holding his breath till he let it out with gusto. "Do you have her"?

Shila moved her tug into position, while putting her helmet on for the loss of atmosphere that was about to happen. The decompression happened quickly and the door was open. Shila saw Theana a short distance away, and she didn't seem to be moving, just slowly drifting. She attached her umbilical to her tug and launched herself out the door. Her suit had a small thrust capability but only for last ditch emergencies.

Shila misjudged her push off the tug and was going to miss Theana, "Well I think this counts as an emergency" she thought and activated her one use thruster. Shila slammed into Theana and managed to grab onto her. Once Theana was latched to her suit she did the hand over hand on the cable to reel themselves in.

The whole collection and retrieval took about 20 minutes. Once Shila was clear, Donny detonated the charges along with Theana's doomed tug.

Hiroko had come onto the bridge during this and manned her console. The scan clearly showed separation of the two remaining bodies. The scan also showed the reaction between them had pushed the smaller piece in a better more easily corrected trajectory. However the main body now called Anvil Prime had move to a slightly worse course, making it's correction that much harder.

Everyone but Cap, who had to stay on the bridge, was down in the docking bay. Shila's tug docked and the door opened. Hillary was the first to enter and checked Theana's vitals. Hillary's first question and concern was allayed, when she found Theana still alive. Spence and Jeff gently lifted her to a gurney and she was moved to the sick bay. Hillary knew she must work fast if she was going to save her leg, the loss of so much muscle tissue might be to much to stabilize for the tissue regeneration protocols. All the rest of the crew even Gary seemed relived that she might make it.

Cap ordered Donny to reconfigure the remaining three tugs for pushing. After 40 minutes the tugs were back out there refueled and pushing the largest chunk. Hillary and Spence were working on Theana so Gary, Hiroko, and Jeff were driving the tugs for pushing. Dris and Ty went to get some well deserved rest but Shila was pacing outside of sickbay too anxious to rest.

Hillary had not seen a wound this bad in quite some time, but her knowledge and skills allowed her to stabilize Theana and save the leg. The damage was extensive but mostly correctable down the road at a better facility. For now the stabilization serums and tissue matrix will be a good patch.

Shila was there when Theana awoke. Their eyes met and no words were exchanged, just a deep love and understanding between them. Theana finally broke the quiet, and asked "Will I walk again, and what's for dinner"? Hillary fielded the medical question, "Not only will you walk again, you will dance". Shila smiled and said "For dinner, I don't know, what do you feel like making"? They both started crying and laughing at the same time.

Over the next few days everyone settled into a routine of pushing a lump of metal with tugs and resting. The visits to Theana were frequent and happy, even Gary came by. Nobody could believe that Theana got out just in the nick of time, it was like one of those action films, but it actually happened in real life.

Gary entered sickbay after one of his shifts eyes downcast. Then starring directly into Theana's eyes he said, "You were going to sacrifice yourself, to try to help save earth, That is the bravest thing I have ever seen". Without another word he turned and left.

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