Excerpt from The Outer Marker

I’ve been asked by a friend to post a bit of the book so he can see what I’ve written. Although I’ve mentioned that Smashwords allows for previews of the books if the author allows it, I think it would be a good idea to post some of my blood, tears and sweat. So, without further ado, a couple of pages from The Outer Marker:

Jim had to think quickly at this point. He glanced at the clock on the navigational display and made a note in his mind that he needed to get back on the radio in 82 minutes, by his best estimation. The problem was that Orseous had scheduled times for reentry in order to manage traffic, environmental conditions, and customs and tariffs on all ships coming in. The Gazelle was not scheduled for reentry for another 95 minutes, and Jim’s dilemma was being potentially in mid-broadcast during reentry burn-in.
He reached down and disconnected the thin bar that held all four engine throttles in place for synchronization purposes. His fingers hopped over the throttle and power for engine number two and pulled the lever down, away from the front of the dashboard. While glancing at the power settings for each engine, the needle on the gauge second from the left swung back from a three o’clock position and settled into the idle range, while the remaining engines stayed at their full power settings.
He switched the radio to 1154.2 and verified that the display changed to RLM, which indicated that the station belonged to the Ringl Mines Corporation. He keyed the mike on the side of the stick and began: “Ringl Mines Approach, Majestic Two-Three-Two, over.”
A friendly voice came on immediately, “Good evening, Majestic, this is Ringl Mines. Weren’t expecting to hear from you for anther 40 minutes.”
“You’re right, Ringle approach, I’ll need the next available slot after the 1705 time. I have an engine that overspun. I need to diagnose and restart before slotting in for approach, over.”
“Majestic, do you require a tow, over?” There was genuine concern in her voice that Jim to feel slight guilt for having to lie so blatantly to her.
“Negative, Ringl, no need. I just need the next slot, and I’ll get everything squared away up here, over.”
“Well, ok. I have you down for the next approach window at 1750, Majestic. Check in ten minutes prior and have your approach vectors verified before lining up.”
“Copy, Ringl. Majestic to form up ten prior to 1750. Majestic out.”
“Whew, why did I feel nervous about that?” Jim thought to himself. He reached down and slowed the three remaining healthy engines to a lower speed, and the Sentinel Sunrise waste carrier pulled ever so slowly away from him. Although there was no friction in space that would cause drag to slow the ship down, the Gazelle was outfitted with a Plondke Governor that, when activated, intentionally slowed the ship when the throttles were reduced to Idle. As often as the ship traveled between planets and entered and exited various orbits, this device helped immensely when the ship needed to slow down on approach to his next orbit or space station.
It wouldn’t have helped matters if he had a tow ship arrive only to find out that there wasn’t a problem with his engines. Overspinning is caused by a mechanical problem when the engines will break or slip their reduction gears and begin to spin more freely by the excess fuel being fed into the combustion chambers. Most of the time it could be corrected by keeping the throttle at the same setting and manually cutting the fuel off by disengaging the fuel pump for that engine. With the sudden absence of fuel, the computer would sense the throttle setting and immediately reset the engine to Idle/Set Stop to prevent mechanical or friction damage.
If a competent mechanic were to scan his ship, the first item he would check would be the setting to Idle, which would be a huge giveaway. And that would lead Jim to a lot of unnecessary explaining on why he decided to park himself in space when he had a deadline for a cargo pickup at the Mines.
The kids had slept for most of the trip and were beginning to stir and wake up. Eric lifted his head, glanced out the window, then down to the cockpit instruments.
“Why aren’t we moving, Dad? And what’s wrong with engine two?” he asked as he looked at the one needle that didn’t match the others.
“He’ll make a great captain or engineer someday. It’s not easy to sense when there is no movement in space,” Jim thought.
“I didn’t like the way number two sounded, son. I’m letting it settle down before restarting,” he lied as he moved the three remaining engines to their Idle/Station settings. “Come on, the kid is four and a half. But he’s smart enough that I won’t be able to BS him much longer.”
“Sarah, wake up. I wanna play. Wake up!” Eric said as he looked toward the curled-up figure diagonally behind him.
“Mmmmm, leave me alone,” she said with authority.
“Eric, leave her alone for a bit until she wakes up, ok?” Jim asked his son quietly. “She’ll wake up soon enough and you guys can play. We’ll only be delayed for an hour.”
“Ok, dad, I have to pee anyway,” as he hit the quick release of the five-point seatbelt. “And can I hang out in the sleeping area?”
“Sure,” Jim said as he nodded to the 4-foot by 7-foot area right behind the cockpit between the bulkheads leading to the first cargo bay.
Eric padded over to the bathroom in his socks as Jim tuned to the commercial frequency and announced that he was at anchor and would get underway within the hour. Jim changed his navigation lights to two white lights, one on top of another, on his vertical stabilizer. This was the universal signal for ship at anchor. It allowed for other ships to mark his position as stationary.
Eric played, and eventually Sarah joined him. They took out their Deks and played some games and also looked at some books by their favorite character, Rimmby the Kangaroo. They couldn’t read yet, but they enjoyed looking at the colorful and detailed pictures in the books and sometimes made up stories to accompany the pictures.
An hour and twenty-two minutes passed quickly while Jim ran overdue diagnostics on the avionics. This action was not associated with his perceived engine troubles, so it came back with a clean bill of health on most of the equipment, as Jim expected. Nothing stood out as requiring attention. Lastly, he opened the avionics maintenance logs.
Right before the line items of throttle two to idle, he added three lines: “Warning: RPM Disagree, E2 vs. E1-4,” followed by, “Warning: Overspeed, E2,” and finally, “Notice: E2 fuel pump forced shutdown.” That way if he did get inspected, the log would match the lie. He tuned the radio to the 1220.0 frequency, put on the headphones so the kids wouldn’t hear, and waited.
“Dad who are you talking to?” Eric asked.
“No one right now, son. I’m waiting for a message.”
“Why do you have the headphones on? Can’t we all hear it?”
“No, this one is for adults. It’s some business I have to hear about a potential contract, ok?”
He wanted to dissuade them from being curious. Sometime he would add too much technical information to what he was explaining so the kids would get confused and bored, but this time he didn’t have the time. He would have to hope the kid wouldn’t disrupt him while he jotted down the code.
The static cut earlier than expected. It wasn’t clear and concise, but it was definitely his signal from the years before and during the Wars. A scratchy and far away sounding monotone jingle began, and he recognized it as another marching tune from the Old Colonies War. This time there weren’t any lyrics, just the monotone flat sound that a child’s electronic synthesizer makes. The first five stanzas played ten times, always starting again as soon as the previous stopped. Just as he remembered it.

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