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For All Nails #52: Rocket Science

Slave Lake District, Manitoba, CNA

15 May 1973

Huggins stared at the instrument for a long time. Finally it emitted an audible "ping".

"That way. A strong signal, betcha we're inside a kilometer."

Dudley whistled, and the dogs grudgingly began to get in formation. "You know, if I'm going to help you find this thing, at some point you're going to have to tell me what it looks like."

"Metal casing, size of a cricket ball. If we're lucky the fallscreen stayed on, and we'll see a red cloth, size of a bedsheet. Only red object within hundreds of kilometers, excepting your uniform of course."

Dudley made an odd clicking sound and they both hopped on to the back of the sled, Huggins just in time. Any further conversation was precluded by barking. After a moment Dudley steered a bit to the right. Huggins strained his eyes against the glare of the ice but soon picked out the spot of red. The spot became a blur, and then a cloth flapping in the breeze. They pulled to a stop a few meters away. Under the fallscreen, half buried in the snow, was the predicted metal casing.

"Is it all right to pick up? Not radiative or anything?"

"Shouldn't be, not very, but wait a sec." Huggins routinely carried a radiativity detector, which he held gingerly in front of him as he approached the object. "The casing picks up a little bit from freespace particles, but this is fine." He leaned over and picked it up. "This little toy has traveled a long way, Constable."

"To Outer Space and back, unless I miss my guess. Scientific experiments?"

"Much more prosaic. Film. Of some specific places, from 150 kilometers up."

"And which places would those be?"

"Oh, a mere field geologist like me doesn't need to know that. I suppose if I had a camera in polar orbit I'd start with the German launch sites in Russia, and the Mexican ones in Alaska. I'm given to understand we have Puerto Rico covered pretty well by airmobile. You understand the existence of such cameras is totally burn-before-reading classified?"

"What is it they say? Ten can keep a secret if eight of them are dogs? Let's get back, I'm sure someone's in a hurry to develop that film."


Cocoa Beach, Georgia, CNA

17 May 1973

Diana Marilla Sterling was a happy girl. Safe in her mother's arms, she could look at the pretty lights on the machines all around the room. Out through the window, she could see the tall thing with funny white smoke coming out of its bottom. The men in the room were excited as they talked and rushed around, but her Mommy and Daddy and Uncle Josh were right there with her and didn't seem to be worried at all. A word in Mommy's conversation suddenly caught her attention.

"Monkey?" Diana had seen Monkey a few days before, and had given her a piece of banana. Monkey was nice.

"Yes, dear, the Monkey is up there in the Rocket! She's going to go for a ride, and splash in the water, and then the sailors will find her and bring her back!"

"Diana go f'ride?"

"Someday, when you're older, dear. Today it's the Monkey's turn, then if all goes well your friend Christine will ride in the Rocket next month. Joshua, is there some sort of advance sign-up for the Air Force Academy we should put her down for?"

"If Diana is anything like her mother she won't need any help to do whatever she wants to do. Of course when she's older she may have to compete with male pilots as well..."

"I don't know, the Sweet Six are such a crowd favorite, along with being smaller and probably as good as any of the men. I'm not sure the government wants to give up any publicity advantage these days. I'm so proud of those girls..."

Diana's Daddy cut in with more words that she didn't understand. "I only hope that we've given them enough shielding against the freespace particles, Joshua. You can call me a nervous old man, but remember those secret Kramer reports I told you about. Radiative materials are bad for gestating babies -- that's why we switched to the space program, to get Shirley away from them. We can be fairly sure these officers and gentlewomen aren't pregnant, I suppose, but there's the possibility of damage to their germ plasm! And until this next experiment comes back we won't know the energy of those freespace particles to plan for the shielding..."

Mommy patted Daddy on his bald spot. "You're not that old, Charles, but I think you are a bit nervous. After all, if anyone's germ plasm was exposed badly over a lifetime, yours was, but just look at what it produced -- this lovely little girl!"

Mommy held Diana high in the air with both arms and smiled at her. Diana smiled back. Daddy smiled too. They all waited for the Big Noise that would mean that Monkey was starting her ride.


Aboard Private Yacht Jonquille

Barbados bearing WSW 110 km

17 May 1973

The ship-to-ship radio crackled. "Yacht ahoy!"

"Should we answer?" Astrid was monitoring the shortwave for the NUBS World Service coverage of the launch.

"I think so. The last thing we want is to annoy the Navy on a day when they're nervous -- if we cooperate slowly, we've still got a good chance of seeing something interesting. I suppose I'd better talk to them..."

"Just try to be a bit diplomatic, if you can, Phil--"

"Yacht ahoy!"

Phil flipped the transmit switch.

"Private Yacht Jonquille, out of Miami, Captain Jackson. Whom do I have the pleasure--"

"HMCS Refulgent, Radioman Riley Walters. Jonquille, this is a restricted area!"

"In the middle of the high seas? Over?"

"Don't give me the innocent act, Jonquille. You know the rocket test is today, and this is the landing area. What are you doing here?"

"I'm on my honeymoon, if you must know, Refulgent. I haven't been paying much attention to the papers. So a rocket is going to land on us? Do you think Lloyd's covers that sort of thing? Over?"

"I'm not laughing, Jonquille. The Royal Confederation Navy requests that you change heading to 310 and proceed under power on that heading for the next hour. We will monitor your compliance. Refulgent over."

"Heading 310 for one hour under power, we copy. We're happy to help out the Navy, Radioman, any way we can. Shall we let you know if we spot any falling rockets? Over?"

"We've got it covered, Jonquille. Refulgent out."

"Jonquille out."

"Astrid, they don't want us here."

"No, they don't. We must be pretty close to the target point at that. How long until we develop engine trouble?"

"They have been sort of balky, haven't they. Might cut out at any moment. When's the launch?"

"Twenty-four minutes, they just said, then fifteen more to get here. If we stop in about twenty, they'll be pretty busy and might not get around to checking back at all."

"And we'll have some nice pictures, and a radio log of their whole recovery setup. Not a bad day's work, my dear. After this we should take the next few days off."

"Aye, aye, Captain."


Notes: I believe that IOW the USA used physical transport of film from satellites before the bandwidth of digital transmission was adequate. The CNA's filmdrops here are probably a stopgap until they can adapt telecopier technology to replace them. Though, with their relative lack of crypto, they may like the security of a physical transmission. Since the landing point of an unguided re-entry vehicle cannot be predicted accurately, it makes sense to land them in a very large uninhabited area. RMC Constable Dwight Dudley and "geologist" Huggins appeared earlier in Out of Uniform.

The CNA public space program is really quite similar to the USA's IOW, for a number of reasons. As the most media- and image-conscious major nation, the CNA badly needs a public triumph to make up for the Boricua disater. The peninsula we call Florida is their best launch site for weight-limited large satellites (with the speed boost from launching east near the equator), and trying an ape before a human and a suborbital flight before an orbital one strike me as no-brainers. Of course no one in the CNA government acknowledges the military polar-orbit satellite launches from Manitoba -- earlier in spring 1973 the CNA made the first public satellite launch of any nation.

Shirley Gilbert married Dr. Charles Sterling only two months after they met in June 1970 -- Diana was born in August 1971. Their prime research is freespace particles (called "cosmic rays" IOW), the best avenue for high-energy physics after Abramowicz refused to build a mile-diameter circular trench for Sterling's proposed accelerator.

The CNA has female space pilots for a combination of technical and public relations reasons, including the success of the female RCAF officer corps -- Matt Alderman will have to decide whether any of his characters from the Academy have become involved in the space program. [Note added later: We learn about the first six space pilots, including Matt's creation Ev Gilmore, in The Sweet Six. Christine Lillehammer will become the first human in orbit on 17 June 1973.]

For the moment, at least, Phil and Astrid (from Body, Mind, and Character) are freelance spies with the USM and the Kingdom of Scandinavia respectively as preferred customers. They are currently taking a break from close study of Boricua, for both their honeymoon and a brief look at the CNA space program.


David Mix Barrington

(Forward to Corbies.)

(Forward to The Sweet Six.)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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