Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 2 – Embarkation, Liftoff, and the Discovery of a Stowaway

Chapter 2 – Embarkation, Liftoff, and the Discovery of a Stowaway
Once the final preparations and inspections were completed on our two vessels, the Albatross and the Arabella, we boarded and took our seats. The excitement was thick in the air, none of the passengers knowing what to expect. Presently, Captain Thorpe entered the passenger cabin and stated that we would be departing momentarily. The men looked around with apprehension, not  knowing whether sit down and hold on tightly, sit easily, or take some other posture. I was sitting by a window and looked out. To my astonishment we were several feet off the ground. I told the men that they should sit easy as we were in the air already. This started a rush to all the available windows through which the men stared in utter amazement.

Soon we were speeding rapidly away from the Earth. We rose rapidly, but there was almost no sensation of movement. I was told later that this was because the gravity inside the craft exactly matched that of Earth while outside, the ship was in a negative bubble that was lifting us into space. We passed through the clouds and continued up. The edge of the Earth began to show a curve and the sky darkened. It was now painfully apparent that we had left our home.

Looking around the vast expanse of around us, I saw the Arabella nearby. I noticed a light flashing from her pilot’s cabin. Then I saw the glow of a flashing light coming from our own pilot’s cabin. I asked one of the crewmen in our compartment what the signals meant. He told me that they were confirming their actuator settings so the we would travel together. Of course upon hearing this explanation, it made perfect and obvious sense. It was not long before we were speeding toward our goal. The captain emerged from the pilot’s cabin to tell us we were now completely free of the Earth. He also told us that as soon as we cleared the Moon’s orbit, we would accelerate to full speed towards Mars. 

Seaman First Class Quist (whom I asked about the signals) informed me that in about nine hours we would be passing near the Moon and that it would be quite a sight to see as we would be flying close by. It should be noted, as an aside, that our spacecraft have been attached to the Navy so the crew of our vessel uses the ranks of that branch of service. Since I had several hours to wait before our lunar encounter, I decided to organize the men into details to perform the various tasks I wanted to accomplish before we arrived at Mars.

I divided the platoon into 5 groups of four. During a 10 hour period (for there was no night and day) each group rotated through the five stations I devised. These were a study of all the literature on Mars, Practice with our weapons, turning the electric generators, calisthenics, and a free period. I knew this schedule would not get us all the way to Mars, so I was already working on alternative studies. This way, I could thwart the evils of idleness as much as possible. This schedule would start during the next 24 hour period, as the novelty of spaceflight occupied the men this first day.

A few hours into the flight, nervous energy was making me fidgety so I decided to work off some of the energy by taking a turn on the electrical generators. I had been cranking away for about an hour and was taking a breather when a strange noise caught my ear. I went back into the engine room and to my surprise Bully was waiting at the door to greet me. Bully was a stray dog that wondered into our training camp and was adopted by the men. He was well behaved and very intelligent. 

Bully and I went out into the main cabin to find the man responsible for our stowaway. When we arrived in the cabin I found nineteen guilty looking men in our presence.  I addressed the men, “Obviously, we are too far along in the journey to turn back, so Bully will join us on Mars.”  A cheer was raised which I silenced. I continued, “I only brought provisions for twenty. How do you men propose to feed our twenty first member?” The men looked about at each other, the floor, and the ceiling. I then said, “Every day, 5 of you will surrender part of your rations to Bully. I leave it up to you men to arrange the schedule.” With that, they were much relieved. As it turned out, Bully more than earned his keep on this adventure.