Friday, June 19, 2015

Flash FIction Friday - Memos From the Disaster

It's Flash Fiction Friday! I'll start with the story, then follow up with the inspiration behind it.


"Memos from the Disaster"
--by Leonard C Suskin

[Classified] - Heat-resistant tiles
URGENT - Do not share with press.

A thorough review of the heat-resistant tiles on the re-entry vehicle was completed via satellite flyover. An as-yet unidentified failure created a cascade effect in which a six square-meter section of heat-resistant cladding has been removed from the vehicle. Simulations indicated that remaining cladding is insufficient for safe re-entry.

See figures. We need a way to fix this, or they're all going to die.

Communication log - mission control to orbiter (excerpt)
[MC] ... so that's the situation. You lack sufficient heat-resistant cladding for safe re-entry.
[orbiter] So how do we fix it? Will have our team prep for EVA as soon as patch procedures are uploaded.
[MC] This is a catastrophic failure. No patch procedure possible. (message pauses) We're so sorry.
[orbiter] There's always a solution. You work on it down there, we'll work on it up here. Find it.

[Classified] RE: Heat-resistant Tiles

Let this note serve as a reminder that , while the situation is being released to the press as of noon today, ONLY the public-relations team and dedicated press liasons are to speak regarding this matter. PLEASE DIRECT ALL INQUIRIES TO APPROPRIATE PUBLIC-RELATIONS PERSONNEL.

This includes discussion of the choice to crowd-source mitigation strategies. It is understood that many of you see this as a rejection of your expertise. Nothing of the sort is intended. With the lives of four of our bravest at stake, we feel the obligation to utilise the full resources of earth in their entirety. 

Thank you.

UPDATE on the "SAVE AN ASTRONAUT" Public Project

We thank all of you, the members of the public, for your diligent and enthusiastic work on this. In order to prevent duplication of efforts and to avoid overwhelming our screening team, please consider the following points in your submissions:
  1. Sufficient reaction mass is not available for docking with the International Space Station.
  2. There are no launch-ready lifter systems available for a resupply mission.
  3. The crew will not resort to cannibalism. Even if they were to do so, caloric content would not be sufficient for survival until a resupply could be sent (see item 2)
  4. Even if they could be attached to the hull, space suits will not offer sufficient heat ablation to protect the craft during reentry.
  5. Solutions.Nasa.Gov is dedicated to proposed solutions. Messages of encouragement or support for the astronauts should go to LoveNotes.Nasa.Gov. Messages will be screened for content before sending. Due to the volume or well-wishes, responses should not be expected.
[Group Message from  Nails Greenfield, president of the Brooklyn Science Fiction Society (Excerpt)]

Of course I wrote to them, even knowing that they'd never read it. I'm not a rocket scientist; this is all I could do. Here are the closing lines of my message:

...I know that this is easy for me to say, but even knowing  that you may never come back, I envy you the chance to climb above the clouds, to touch the sky. You're part of the select group, a bearer of the dreams I've held since I was a very young man.

I'm no longer a young man, and am resigned to live and die earthbound. You - all of you - are awesome and special and have given the rest of us a great gift.

We thank you.

There was more, but it's personal, including some "American haiku" which, in all honesty, feel lovely to me.  It's what  I can do. Tomorrow I'd like to share this with the group rather than workshop the next chapter of the novel; this will count as my turn.

You all can share your thoughts, and then we'll sent it up, a prayer to the doomed gods above us who may never have the time to read it.


Thank for reading.

The inspiration for this one was Andy Weir's novel The Martian. It's a survival novel, and, as a realistic nuts and bolts SF adventure,  a bit of a throwback.  What surprised me as I read it was how little suspense I felt as the crises mounted and situation grew more dire; it's a survival novel, so of COURSE the character would survive. Everything about it pointed towards that conclusion, just as everything pointed towards further disasters en route. The fact that it felt like a "successful rescue" type of survival story left me certain that titular Martian would survive, so reading it became the exercise of opening a series of clever puzzle-boxes rather than riding a white-knuckle thrill-ride. 

This piece was the result; How do things end when we know that it really might be hopeless? This is one of those flash pieces which might grow into something more as tehre IS more to say on it. Thought experiment for you, dear readers: What would you do were you one of the doomed astronauts? How would you live the last days, hours, even weeks of your life knowing that they were your last and knowing that everyone was watching? It is - at least to me - an interesting question.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

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