Star Force One

© 2016 Scribe1971

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

These stories are copyrighted by Scribe1971, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

Star Force One - The Recruits

Prologue 1 - Colonel Ryan Anderson - July 2037

"Colonel Anderson, please rise." General Gervais called out from atop the judicial bench.

Colonel Ryan Anderson, dressed smartly in his dress blues with his cap under his left arm rose and snapped to attention before the judge.

"Colonel Anderson, you stand charged with failure to exercise proper command, negligent performance of duty, insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer of Star Force in relation to the accident and subsequent loss of the space vessel Orion this past March. Having reviewed the evidence, this general courts martial finds the following. With regards to the charge of failure to exercise proper command, we find you not guilty. With regards to the charge of negligent performance of duty, we find you not guilty. With regards to the charge of insubordination, we find you not guilty. With regards to the charge of conduct unbecoming, we find you guilty as charged."

A murmur rose over the court room. Colonel Anderson stood stiff as a board, unmoved and showed no outward reaction.

The judge continued. "In passing sentence, we have taken into account your 15 years of unblemished service, the glowing testimonials of your superiors and peers alike and the fact that while your actions raised many troubling questions, they did lead to the survival of your entire crew, but also led to the destruction of a priceless national asset. It is the judgement of this court martial that you retain your present rank and are restored to flight and command status immediately, however, you are as of this date terminated from the front line Star Force and re-assigned to command the newly formed Star Force Youth Astronaut program. Your leadership and dedication to duty are too important to be lost to this program and will be of exceptional service to your new command. So be it." The judge intoned as he brought his gavel down with a crash.

A million thoughts raced through Ryan's mind. He could have faced a long stint at the Edmonton disciplinary barracks and never be allowed to fly again. Instead he was reassigned to command the astronaut kiddy corps. On the bright side, he was restored to flight status and could, according to Malcolm Drummond, his lawyer, basically have free reign to run the youth program as he saw fit.

"Thanks for everything Major," he said to Malcolm and offered his hand.

"You're welcome Colonel. I wished it could have turned out differently, but I think you can make a real go of this."

"I hope so. I suppose I could always head south if not. NASA is always looking to poach good people from us."

"These kids need you. The program needs these kids," Malcolm said seriously.

"I'll give it my best shot," Ryan replied somewhat skeptically.

Prologue 2 - Cadet Jake Collins - October 2037

Jake sat tapping his pencil on his desk. He had finished the test 10 minutes earlier and everyone else was still scribbling away madly. It was easy he thought, one of those dumb IQ tests that show you shapes or phrases or sequences of numbers and you have to identify the pattern. He had been good at stuff like that for as long as he could remember.

He hoped that he would be accepted. He would never admit it to anyone, but beneath the tough exterior he showed to the world, he as still just a boy who desperately wanted to belong somewhere. Since his parents had died in that car crash, he had been living in a government run group home. It seems that most people who want to adopt are looking for babies and not thirteen-year-old boys, even good looking ones with short, sandy brown hair, perfect teeth and sharp hazel eyes.

"Collins?" The Star Force Lieutenant called. "Done already?"

"Yes sir," Jake replied.

"Bring your paper to the front please."

Jake stood and walked his paper to the front of the room, handing the booklet to the officer. "Can I go use the can?" he asked.

"Sure. Take 10 while we score this test."

Jake wandered down to the bathroom, relieved himself and then went to the cafeteria and grabbed himself a cold bottle of water. Drinking it slowly, he thought about how this opportunity could change his life. "My ticket to becoming something important," he murmured to himself as he walked back to the classroom.

"Collins!" The Lieutenant said sharply as Jake re-entered the room. Another officer, a captain was standing next to the Lieutenant holding his test paper.

"Yes sir?" Jake replied.

"Son did you write this test yourself?" The captain asked.

"Of course!" Jake replied defensively.

"Did you have a crib sheet? Did you see the answers beforehand?" The captain demanded.

"Of course not!" Jake replied sharply. "How could I do that?"

"Son I have been administering this test for more than 10 years and I have never seen a result like this in my life. You finished with 20 minutes to spare and you scored in the 99th percentile of all ADULT test takers."

"That's good right?" Jake asked surprised.

"Good? Son this is not just good, this means that you are smarter than 99% of the people on earth. This gives you an IQ score of 162."

"Wow!" Jake replied breaking into a sunny grin.

"If you didn't cheat!" the captain added.

"I didn't cheat! Watch the security camera footage!" Jake replied loudly.

"We will!" the captain replied.

A second later, the door opened and another officer walked in. This man wore the red collar tabs and quadruple gold bars of a Colonel.

"ROOM!" the captain shouted and everyone, test takers included snapped to attention.

"As you were," The Colonel said. "What is all the yelling about? Captain Reynolds, care to fill me in?"

"Sir," Captain Reynolds stammered "We have reason to believe that this recruit cheated on his aptitude test."

"Son do you know who I am?" the Colonel asked Jake?

"Yes sir, you are Colonel Anderson, our commanding officer and the man who saved the crew of the Orion when it was hit by space junk."

A glimmer of a smile crossed Ryan Anderson's lips for a moment.

"Did you cheat in some way Cadet?" Ryan asked.

"No sir I did not. I have always been good at these tests and I find them easy."

Ryan nodded. "Captain, do you have evidence this cadet cheated?"

"Just look at that score," Captain Reynolds replied.

Ryan looked at the score report and had to stifle a gasp. He had never seen such a high score before. He glanced at Jake who stood proudly at attention. And then eyed the Lieutenant. "Simmons, do you have reason to believe that this cadet cheated?"

"No sir," Lieutenant Simmons replied after snapping to attention.

"Reynolds, let me get this straight, this outstanding cadet scores off-scale high on his aptitude test and you first response is to accuse him of cheating?"

"Sir, a score that high is not possible."

"OF COURSE IT IS POSSIBLE!" Anderson thundered.

"Son you are dismissed. You may return to your quarters. Welcome to the Youth Astronaut Corps." Anderson said to Jake.

"But sir, he has not gone through the rest of the screening process as of yet!"

"Too bad! I am running this show and it is my decision. He has passed the medical and he is physically capable. He is in. You, on the other hand are treading on very thin ice. If I ever catch you accusing a cadet of wrongdoing again with no evidence, I will have your ass in a sling." Colonel Anderson turned and left the room.

Jake pumped his fist and jumped for joy as he made his way back to his barracks room.

Chapter 1 - The Edge of Space - April 2038

Jake opened his eyes when he heard the hard rap on his barracks room door.

"Cadet Collins! Time to get up kiddo," Colonel Anderson said loudly.

Jake rolled over and glanced at the numbers of his alarm clock....4:30 AM. He was about to close his eyes and go back to sleep when he remembered suddenly what day it was. Launch day. Of all the youth astronaut cadets, he had been chosen to make the first "check" flight that would earn him his astronaut wings. At 13 years and two months, he was to be by far the youngest person to ever venture into space. "I'm awake, sir," Jake replied, suddenly alert.

Jake switched on the light and began to search for a clean uniform to wear.

"Jake?" Colonel Anderson said as he opened the door.

Jake thought it was unusual for the normally 'by the books' Colonel to use his first name. A lot of the cadets thought the Colonel was a hard-case, but Jake could sense that there was more to the man than that. "Getting ready now sir," Jake replied as he slipped on a clean pair of boxer briefs and began to put on a standard issue blue Star Force jump suit.

"How do you feel son?" Colonel Anderson asked. His voice was a little more tender than usual.

"Fine sir," Jake replied. He had noticed the change in the Colonel's voice.

"Good job. Get yourself ready and then we have the traditional steak and eggs breakfast. Then it's off to the suit-up room. Did you invite any friends or family to the launch?"

"No sir," Jake replied softly. "I don't have any family and all of my friends are here already."

Ryan suddenly felt like a heel. "Sorry," he replied evenly. He was not sure what else to say when he found himself adding "We're all a family here anyway kiddo. You are about to join a very exclusive club too."

Jake smiled proudly. "Thank you sir."

A few minutes later, Ryan followed Jake into the small dining room in the crew quarters area. Already seated around the table were cadets Peter Durand, Brenda Thorn, Mark Andrews and James McDougal. They were Jakes closest friends in the program and Brenda actually had more than a minor crush on him. Also in attendance were Harold Davis, chief of Flight Operations for the Canadian Space Agency, Jacques Demers, Head of Flight Crew operations and Pad Leader Tony Carmichael.

As Jake took his seat, James clapped him on the back, "Go get em bro! And don't screw up!" the last comment earning a roar of laughter from everyone present.

"How are things progressing with the spacecraft?" Ryan asked.

"The bird is A-ok and ready to fly," Jacques replied.

Crews had been working all night on the spacecraft that Jake was to pilot into the heavens that morning.

The spacecraft was a versatile one-man capsule named Polaris. This flight was to be a high-altitude single orbit mission and was designated Polaris 28. Jake would be blasted into what was actually a sub orbital trajectory that would take him 1,000 km into space and giving him over three hours of weightlessness before re-entering the atmosphere. Upon successful completion of the mission, he would move up from Cadet to Astronaut Pilot trainee and would begin to train for an orbital mission on a larger vehicle.

Jakes stomach was all butterflies and he could hardly taste the wonderful breakfast that had been set before him. He was excited and scared at the same time and he knew that he was about to make history by becoming the first teenager in space.

"It's a routine flight Jake and you'll do fine." Ryan said to him. He had an almost fatherly look on his face.

"I know. It's so much excitement though!" Jake replied.

After breakfast, with the countdown proceeding without a hitch, Ryan led Jake down the corridor to the suit-up room. It was a large room lined with four couches and matching easy chairs lining the two longest walls along with racks of equipment. Technicians were only occupied with one station that morning.

Jake slipped off his coveralls and stood there in his boxer briefs as suit technicians began attaching medical electrodes to his chest and other parts of his body. One of the main purposes of this flight was to ensure that Jake was physically and mentally up to the task of space flight and doctors on the ground needed to monitor all of his vitals.

With his med-tech belt attached, techs began to help him into his bright orange launch and re-entry suit. Known as the pumpkin suit for its bright orange colour, it carried a parachute, emergency oxygen and other survival equipment and supplies. It was intended to keep an astronaut alive if he or she had to bail out of their spacecraft during launch or landing. Ryan knew the suits well - exact duplicates of this suit had saved the lives of him and his crew when his crippled spacecraft began to break up around them during re-entry.

Jake tossed his gloves inside his upturned helmet and hefted it under his arm. "Let's do this," he said with a grin.

Ryan followed him down the corridor and out into the bright early morning Cape Breton sunshine. The gleaming white crew van waited for him and a throng of reporters and photographers began shooting photos and shouting questions.

Jake just smiled and waved as he climbed on board the crew van.

Ryan sat down next to him as the van pulled away and began the short 10-minute drive to the launch pad. "How do you feel Jake?" he asked.

"Good, but my stomach is all butterflies!"

"I know the feeling. On my first flight I was with four other guys and we were only the fifth crew to ride the old American Orion spacecraft to the ISS from the Florida cape."

"That was before Prime Minister Chambers launched our own space program right?"

"You're right. We used to be a pretty small player and now we are one of the largest."

"I have his brother's autograph," Jake said thoughtfully. "He was signing books and I went and got him to sign my copy."

"Mark Callahan, the first man to set foot on Mars? I met him a number of times. Really solid guy. Never flew with him though."

The crew van arrived at the launch pad next to the 150-foot-tall gleaming white and black Nova 1 booster with its dark coloured Polaris 28 spacecraft mounted on top. Unlike previous times when they had approached the booster during training, it now seemed to be a living thing. Gas vented from ports here and there and a thin sheet of ice coated its tanks of super-cold fuel. The elevator ride to the top took only a couple of minutes. Jake and Ryan stepped onto the gantry and walked down the crew access arm to the white room.

The white room is a small compartment that partially enclosed the Polaris capsule while on the pad. Several technicians were inside preparing the spacecraft for Jake's arrival and the strap down team stood by. A countdown clock on the wall showed that the countdown was progressing just past T-90 minutes until launch.

With some help from a pair of close-out technicians, Jake climbed through the hatch and settled into the single seat of the Polaris capsule. Polaris was much more roomy and high tech than earlier single seat spacecraft and was designed as a light weight manned cargo vessel that could be used as an emergency escape vessel capable of landing with up to three people on board. The main control panel was dominated by several touch screen monitors that displayed pertinent information based on the current mission phase. To the right were engineering panels with breaker switches and environmental controls. To the left and under the pilot's couch were equipment lockers and storage bins. Ahead and under the main control console was the docking hatch which led out through the nose cone of the spacecraft.

Ryan watched from outside as the strap-down crew went to work tightly strapping Jake into his seat, helping him put on his gloves and helmet. For the moment, the helmet visor would be kept open. Finally, they connected oxygen hoses to his suit and he was ready to go.

"Polaris 28, this is Cape Breton Launch Control, radio check, over."

"Cape, this is Polaris 28, radio check. Reading you five-by-five." Jake replied.

As most of the white room team departed, Ryan lingered with the Pad leader. He leaned inside the open hatch and spoke to Jake. "Ok kiddo, this is your moment. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Go make history and go make us all proud," He said warmly and offered his hand.

Jake smiled and reached up with his gloved hand. "I will. Thanks Sir."

Ryan stepped out of the way as Tony Carmichael, the pad leader leaned in. "Ok Jake, we are closing and latching the hatch now."

Jake gave him the thumbs up and the hatch closed with a dull thud followed by the metallic clink of locking bolts.

Aside from Ryan and Tony, the whole launch pad area was now deserted. They quickly made their way down the elevator and into the waiting crew can and were whisked away back to Mission Control.

"Polaris 28, Cape Breton, Radio Check, over." Jake heard through his headset

"Cape Breton, Polaris 28, Radio Check. Read you loud and clear," he replied. Glancing at the countdown clock on the master control panel, which read T-38 minutes.

Ground control spent the next few minutes walking Jake through a series of checklists to get the spacecraft ready to fly.

"Ok Jake, your CAPCOM is here and we have one last procedure for you. Time to close and latch your helmet visor and open the O2 suit valves" the flight engineer intoned.

"Roger that, visor closed and latched. Suit O2 valves opened and I can feel oxygen flow.

Ryan, who had just arrived at the control centre put on his headset. "Polaris 28, this is CAPCOM, UHF radio check over."

Jake smiled to himself when he heard Ryan's voice on the radio. Whenever an astronaut is in flight, the only person to talk directly to him or her is another astronaut - the CAPCOM or Capsule Communicator. Any astronaut could fulfill the role and usually the flight crew's wish was granted. Jake was still surprised that Ryan had the time to do it for him given that he was running the whole program. "CAPCOM, this is 28, copy your radio check. Thank you sir, over."

"Anytime Jake," Ryan replied. "just relax, enjoy the launch and do us proud. We have a special visitor who is here to watch the launch who will come by to talk to you later and a special phone call once you get into space."

"Roger that, looking forward," Jake replied.

"28, Cape Breton," Ryan said "Set Abort mode to Manual and activate hand controller."

"Roger Cape Breton, setting Abort mode to Manual and enabling hand controller."

"T-minus 5 minutes and counting, all systems are go for launch," said the voice of the Public Affairs Officer over the Public Address System.

"All controllers, give me a go or a no-go for launch," said Flight Director Simmons. "Booster?"

"Go flight," replied the booster tech.


"Go Flight."

"Range Safety?"

"Go Flight."

The flight director queried each tech in turn and all responded, "Go Flight," indicating that everything was fine in their area of responsibility.

"T-minus one minute, the spacecraft and launch vehicle are on internal power and the automatic event sequencer is in control."

"Control, this is 28, I show the spacecraft on internal power," Jake said over the radio. Ryan could hear the nervous excitement in his voice.

"Copy that 28. Just relax Jake," Ryan replied.

"Flight, medical," The flight surgeon said.

"Go ahead medical," The flight director said.

"I show an elevated heart rate," the flight surgeon replied. "Nothing to worry about at this state."

"Most likely nerves," Ryan replied.

"Jake, this is Control.... your heart is beating like a jack rabbit. The first ice cold Coke is on me after you land if you can try to relax for me, kiddo."

"Roger control." Jake could hear the genuine concern in Ryan's voice. Could it be that there was someone who actually cared about him?

Flight surgeon, "Levels are returning to normal."

"T-minus 15 seconds and counting," the public affairs officer said calmly over the PA system. "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, Ignition sequence start, 3, 2, 1 and lift-off! We have lift-off of Polaris 28 and it has cleared the tower!"

Jake felt a strong thump far below him and then a solid jolt as the rocket lifted off the pad. He felt a slow but steady weight pressing down on his chest as the vehicle began to accelerate. "The clock is running," Jake said over the radio. "Beginning roll maneuver."

"Roger 28, we copy you rolling."

The gleaming rocket gimballed its massive engines and steered itself onto the correct launch trajectory.

"Pitching over," Jake said.

"Copy that 28, you are right on the money, all systems are go," Ryan replied excitedly.

Jake suddenly became aware that he was beginning to get an erection. It felt as if he was going to rip a hole in the front of his flight suit. He turned red faced as he wondered if the flight surgeon monitoring his vitals had any idea what was going on.

"28, this is control, you are approaching Max-Q and main engines are throttling down to 65% thrust." Max-Q was the point at which aerodynamic forces on the spacecraft were strongest and the engines throttled down to minimize the effect.

"Copy Max-Q," Jake replied.

"Jake, you will be pleased to know that you are now the highest flying and fastest flying teenager in history. You just passed Mach 3 and you over 80,000 feet up."

"Roger Control!" Jake said happily.

"28 you are go for throttle up," Ryan said a moment later.

"Copy throttle up," Jake replied. He watched the thrust indicators on his main display as they rose steadily from 65% to 100% thrust.

A few moments later Ryan called up, "28, you are go for staging in t-5 seconds. Get ready for a little jolt."

"Roger that, "Jake replied.

Five seconds later, the main engines of the massive first stage shut down and the immediate lack of acceleration threw Jake forward against his seat straps. Explosive bolts blew a second later and the spent first stage fell away. A second later, the single second stage engine roared to life and slammed Jake back into his seat.

"That was some little jolt," Jake replied a moment later mimicking the famous scene from the old movie Apollo 13.

"28, Cape Breton, you are now officially in space. Congratulations Astronaut," Ryan said over the radio.

"Cape, this is 28, copy that and thanks. This is some ride!"

Six minutes later the second stage engines shut down and the Polaris spacecraft separated. It had been placed into a highly elliptical trajectory that would take it around a single orbit of the earth that would stretch out to over 1,000 kilometers in altitude over Australia and the South Pacific and would target the capsule for a splashdown in the Atlantic off the coast of Cape Breton Island.

Jake unlatched his helmet and smiled as it floated freely in the cabin. He then removed his gloves and began to work his way out of the bright orange pumpkin suit. The suit was only worn for launch and re-entry.

"28, this is control, we show you on stable orbit."

"Copy that control," Jake replied. "The view from up here is amazing. The earth looks like a bright blue marble.

A few moments later, a very trim and fit looking man, wearing the uniform of a Royal Canadian Air Force Major General, arrived in Cape Breton Mission Control. He walked over to Ryan and offered his hand. "Ryan, it's been a while," he said with a smile.

Ryan smiled back and took the offered hand, "Major General Callahan! Great to see you Mark."

"Keeping out of trouble?" Mark asked with a grin. "You, know I have always thought the way they treated you was a travesty and if there was anything I could have done, I would have."

"I know Mark," Ryan replied. "Star Force just doesn't take too kindly to Air Force officers telling them what to do.... even bonified heroes such as you." Ryan pointed to the crimson ribbon on Mark's chest.

"How is our boy doing?" Mark asked.

"He's doing great. Ready to talk to him?"

"You bet."

A technician handed Mark a headset and got him connected as Ryan called up to Jake.

"28, this is control. Jake, we have a special guest here who would like to have a word with you."

"Control, 28, roger that. Standing by."

"All yours," Ryan said to Mark.

"Jake? This is Mark Callahan. How are you doing up there son?" Mark asked.

"The first man to set foot on Mars? I'm doing great sir. It's an honour to speak to you again. We met once before at Chapters in Halifax. You were signing copies of your book "For All Mankind" about the Mars landing."

"I actually remember you Jake, you leave quite the impression. I just wanted to tell you how proud we all are of you. Everyone here is rooting for you and looking forward to what is going to be a very bright career with Star Force."

"I appreciate that, sir." Jake replied.

"Mark. You are a fellow astronaut and to my fellow astronauts, I am Mark."

"Thanks Mark, that means a lot coming from you."

"I have someone else who would like to speak to you. One second while I patch him in from Ottawa."

Mark pulled out his smartphone and dialed a number. "Shirley, this is Mark, is the boss ready to speak to Jake Collins?"

A technician patched Mark's phone into the line just as there was a click and a voice on the other end came through.

"Jake, this is Josh Chambers talking to you from Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

"Prime Minister Chambers? Wow! It really is an honour to speak to you sir."

"The honour is all mine, Jake. I want you to know how proud we all are of you. The whole country is watching you, indeed the whole world is watching you. Your name is going into the history books beside the names of Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepherd, Neil Armstrong and my brother Mark Callahan. You are representative of our best and our brightest. It was young people like you that led my government to creating the youth division of the space program and indeed our own comprehensive space program to begin with. You are the future of space exploration and of this nation. Jake, I know a lot about your background and we have some similarities. You have clearly formed a bond with Colonel Anderson and I want to see that flourish. To that end, I have today signed an Order in Council directing Star Force to fully and without restriction reinstate Colonel Anderson's flight status allowing him to be your training and evaluation pilot on your second mission that will certify you as a pilot astronaut."

"Thank you sir!" Jake replied.

"I thank you too, Prime Minister." Ryan added.

"One more thing, Colonel. The success of this program has been nothing short of miraculous and that's largely due to your leadership. I am further ordering that you be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and given a full seat on the Star Force board of directors."

"I don't know what to say, Prime Minister. Thank you," Ryan said.

"You earned it, General," Josh replied.

"One more thing Jake," Josh said. "Would you be so kind as to sign a couple of autographs for me when you land? My son, TJ thinks you are the greatest and my daughter, Dianne, has the biggest crush on you."

"My boys would love autographs too," Mark added.

"No problem at all," Jake said with a laugh.

With that the VIP visit was over and Jake was able to resume his mission. Everything seemed to be going well until about an hour into the flight.

"Control, 28, I am getting a lot of frost on my windows and the air blowing from the vents is very cold"

"Copy that 28," Ryan replied. "ECON, Flight...what is the status of the environmental control system?"

"Flight, ECON, everything appears normal except that cabin temp shows abnormally low and dropping fairly steadily. Running diagnostics now."

"28, control. Stand-by we are looking into your temperature issues right now. I suggest that you cycle the environmental control breakers and see if that kick-starts the system."

"Roger control cycling breakers now," Jake replied.

"Flight, ECON.... We show that the secondary warming loop is malfunctioning. Oxygen is stored in cryogenic slush form in the tanks and it is pre-heated to restore it to a gaseous form. It is then pumped through a secondary loop where it Is warmed to the desired cabin temp. He must be getting close to arctic cold air coming out of those vents."

"Jesus Christ," Ryan exclaimed. "We need to get him warmed up and we need to do it now."

"ECON, flight, why don't we get him back into his pumpkin suit?"

"Negative flight, very little insulation and the O2 feed hoses come from the same source"

"Wait, what is the status of the electronics cooling system?"

"Working fine," the ECON tech replied.

"Why don't we disable it and allow the cabin air to air-cool the electronics and allow the heat generated by the systems to warm the cabin air?" Ryan asked.

"Could be risky. An overheat of a critical system could become mission critical," ECON replied.

"It's going to become mission critical if he gets hypothermia too!" Ryan replied.

"If we reduce cooling to the lowest possible level it might warm the cabin enough to be tolerable. We're only talking about around 2 hours until re-entry," the flight directory replied.

"Jake, this is Ryan," Ryan said finding himself getting more emotionally involved than he had intended or expected and breaking with normal radio protocol. "We have an idea to use the heat from your electronic systems to warm the cabin air." He proceeded to walk Jake through the procedure.

"Control, this is 28, cabin temp is rising. Still a little on the cool side, but no longer like the North Pole in January."

"28, control. Good to hear."

Jake spent the last two hours of his first mission in space completing a checklist of tasks designed to test his ability to function in the weightless environment of low Earth orbit. He completed each task easily and passed with flying colours. He was really enjoying the trip and wished it could last longer.

"Control, 28. I am back into my pumpkin suit and strapped in."

"Copy that 28. You are coming up on service module jettison."

Jake pressed a key on his primary display and small thrusters fired to align the capsule for the correct position to jettison its service module.

"Ok 28, go to dump the SM," Ryan said over the radio."

"Roger control, dumping SM," Jake replied. He flipped the cover off of a red button and pressed it. A second later there was a small jolt as the capsule separated from the SM. Small jets then fired to align it for re-entry."

"Control, 28, we have good SM separation and show proper alignment for entry interface."

"Ok kiddo, just try to relax and enjoy the ride. This is going to be a lot more rough than the trip up, but you'll do fine." The more Ryan talked to this kid, the more he felt something in his chest. He cared about all his cadets, but something about this orphaned boy was bringing out a side of his personality that nobody had ever seen before. Somewhere under that tough as nails, all business officer and pilot, was a caring man who was almost beginning to feel like a part-time parent.

As the capsule plunged into the atmosphere, Jake could once again feel that increasingly intense pressure pushing him back in his seat. Outside the windows of the capsule he could see rapidly intensifying red glow punctuated by flashes of fiery orange. He glanced at the G-meter and saw that he was pulling 7 Gs. He felt the air bladder in the legs of his pressure suit tighten around his legs, forcing blood back into the upper part of his body and preventing him from blacking out under the intense G-load.

"Looking good Jake, you are doing fine," Ryan said into the radio. "We are coming into communications blackout."

"Roger that," Jake replied in a strained voice.

Communications blackout occurred at the point of re-entry when the heating of the spacecraft's heat shield was at it strongest and the air surrounding it was transformed into super-heated plasma. It prevented radio signals from being transmitted or received from the spacecraft. It usually lasted around 3 minutes.

"Flight, ECON," the ECON controller said.

"Go ahead ECON,"

"Flight, we are in blackout."

"Roger that, we are in blackout. Set event timer to 3 minutes and standby to re-acquire signal."

"Flight, Recovery," the recovery officer said.

"Go ahead recovery," the flight director replied.

"Flight, the navy reports that the carrier HMCS Wilfred Laurier is on station and have three helos in the air ready to recover the spacecraft."

"Roger that. Thank you recovery."

HMCS Wilfred Laurier was one of two nuclear powered super carriers that Prime Minister Chambers had ordered for the navy. It was the end of a production run for the US navy and they had been able to get a great deal by taking on four additional vessels - two for the Royal Canadian Navy and two for the Royal Australian Navy. The Laurier was the flag-ship of the Atlantic Fleet. On the west coast, the HMCS John A. MacDonald filled the same role.

On board the spacecraft everything seemed to glow red and Jake felt as though he had an elephant sitting in his chest. Every once in a while, there would be a bump or a jolt, but his control console showed that everything was perfect. He was right on course for a splashdown just off the coast of Nova Scotia. His altitude was dropping rapidly as was his velocity.

About three minutes later, just as Jake felt that the weight on his chest was nearly back to normal, there was a loud thud followed by a much firmer jolt than before. A green light lit up on the console beside "Drogue Chute". Altitude was 15,000 feet and he as slowing down rapidly.

"28, Control radio check over?" He heard Ryan's voice on the radio and smiled.

"Control, this is 28, roger your radio check, all systems are go, drogue is deployed."

"Way to go Jake," Ryan said as mission control erupted into applause.

There was a second loud thud followed by a popping sound as the three main parachutes opened above the descending spacecraft.

"Control, 28, on the mains" Jake announced.

"Roger 28. Recovery force has you on visual. Expect splashdown in 30 seconds. Brace for impact." He saw sunlight streaming in through his windows and water lapping at the lower edge of the glass. He could hear the beat of helicopter rotor blades approaching.

Across Canada and around the world millions of people, glued to their TVs, watched as the recovery helicopters dropped divers into the water and latched hauling lines onto the spacecraft.

Jake inflated his life preserver attached to his pumpkin suit and opened the hatch. "Control, 28. The spacecraft is secure. This is Polaris 28 signing off."

The divers helped Jake into the recovery basket before hauling him up to the safety of the helicopter and then the spacecraft into the air.

On board the recovery helicopter, the crew chief helped Jake out of his flight suit and medical monitoring instruments and handed him a freshly pressed navy blue Astronaut jump suit with his name on it along with a baseball hat which read 'HMCS Wilfred Laurier CVN-101'.

Both choppers landed on the Laurier's flight deck and Jake was welcomed aboard by Admiral Greenfield, commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet. After a brief ceremony, he was fitted with a G suit and a flight helmet then strapped into the rear-seat of a CF-105B Super Arrow.

The massive Mach 3.5 Interceptor employed by the RCAF and RCN blasted off the carrier and went supersonic. Within minutes they were over the massive runway used for Space Shuttles at the Cape Breton Space Centre.

There was a massive crowd waiting for him on the ground. Media were shooting photos and filming every move he made. He smiled at the attention, but scanned the crowd for the person he was looking for.

Ryan stepped down from the reviewing stand and walked towards Jake. The two made eye contact and Ryan offered his hand. Jake glanced at it and instead wrapped his arms around the tall mans torso and held onto him tightly.

Ryan hesitated on for a second, smiled and wrapped his arms around the boy. "Welcome home kiddo," he said. "Your whole life is about to change for the better and somehow I think mine is too."

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