revised scene: Ashok’s ship

The lunar rebels know that they need more population if they’re going to fight the PKs. How to get more population? Release open source plans for AG drive spaceships.

Our protagonist Ashok and his friend Prem have spent the last few months building one. Now it’s time.

== 2064: Lucknow, India

Ashok rubbed the grit out of the corners of his eyes, but that did nothing for the grit he felt in his head, BEHIND his eyes. He needed some caffeine. He walked across the warehouse floor to where the hotplate and the small fridge were and poured water from the kettle into his mug…but there was just a trickle. Crud. He’d have to put on a new pot and –

A timer beeped. He blinked. Right, the batteries. But if the charger was done, did that mean that it was 5am already? He put the empty mug down, walked over to the ship and detached the charging cables. He looked up at a clock. It WAS 5am. Where had the night gone?

Ashok turned away from the clock and looked around the warehouse. He’d been vaguely aware that families had been trickling in for a while, and now he looked at them. Sleepy children clutching stuffed animals, men and women lugging suitcases, older children either trying to look brave despite their fear or legitimately so excited that they didn’t realize that they SHOULD be afraid. Was everyone was present ?

His wife Rani was standing with their children Aravind and Nandita, caught his eye. She smiled gingerly at him, but he could tell that she was as overwhelmed by this moment as he was.

It was time, wasn’t it? He raised his voice. “Well – ah – everyone, welcome. So. This is it. The ship is ready, we’ve tested it time and again…and we’re all here, I think?”

Someone in the crowd shouted back. “The Pallavs are missing!”.

Ashok grimaced. That wasn’t good. The Pallavs had contributed as much as everyone else, and deserved their seat in the ship…but he and Prem been more than clear, time and again. The ship waited for no one. The launch window was dictated by physics, not by manners or social custom, and it could not bend. “We close the ship’s doors in 50 minutes. And we launch in 60.” He looked to the warehouse door. “Let’s hope they get here in time.”

Ashok wasn’t much of a public speaker, and he didn’t have notes, so his address petered out more than ended. Without being given any direction the families started walking out of the warehouse door into the enclosed yard, and up the ramp into the ship. Ashok followed them out and watched through the open door as Rani picked out places in the mismatched seats. After a moment she was obscured by the other families pushing in.

Ashok spied on the crowd for a moment. Some of the younger children fell back asleep. Others talked excitedly, if quietly. Others played video games on their slates. They’d all been instructed not to text or phone anyone until after the launch. Hopefully they were obeying. Reports on discussion boards said that the government wasn’t trying to stop the launch of the open source ships – but who knew if that was true, or just disinformation. No matter what the truth, there was no reason to draw attention to themselves.

Ashok turned away from the open door of the ship and referred to his own slate. The checklist app was still open, from the last time he’d run through it an hour ago. Oxygen? Yes, all of the tanks from the medical supply store were fully charged. Regulators? All set correctly. Batteries? Yes, yes, yes.

He finished the checklist…and started it again, from the top. He was halfway done when the the ten minute timer buzzed.

So soon?

Ashok looked up from his slate and saw that Prem was already removing the tarps from the rear of the ship, revealing the chemical rocket bells.

Five minutes.

Prem looked around the courtyard. This was it. Perhaps the last time he’d ever see India. Maybe the last time he’d ever see Earth.

He found it hard to wrap his head around the idea. And yet – the decision was made. Suddenly, with out any forethought, he crouched, kissed his fingers and pressed them into the dirt at his feet, then stood and wiped his hand against his pants leg.

Time to board the ship and shut the door.

He walked the last few meters to the ramp and set foot on it – and heard shouting behind him. He turned. The Pallavs were running through the warehouse: Inderpal, his wife, and two children, all clutching bags. Just two – not three? Inderpal panted as he ran across the oil stained floor. As he got closer he slowed and explained “Anantha refused to come. She says she’s in love with her boyfriend – but we’re here.” Inderpal’s wife Deepti was sobbing. Ashok knew that he should feel some sympathy, but he was overwhelmed by the launch window coming up. After all these months-

Instead of offering some condolence Ashok just nodded, then heard himself saying mechanically “We’re two minutes after door close – get inside right now.”

They filed in, Deepti still sobbing, and he followed them, pulled the door shut and dogged it, then folded the thermal blanket over the hatch and buttoned it in place.

Prem was already sitting at the navigation computer. He caught Ashok’s eye. Ashok nodded and Prem typed a short phrase on the keyboard and hit enter. Ashok sat next to Prem, strapped himself in then typed his own phrase and hit enter. The screens blinked, status icons appeared, and a countdown started ticking.

Various status words appeared on the screens in green as the batteries and chemical rocket fuel tanks were queried and returned their answers.

When the countdown hit 30 seconds the thrumming started and was joined by the weird twisting sensation that Ashok and Prem had grown – if not used to, then at least familiar with – over the months in the workshop.

Despite Ashok’s fears there was no last minute banging on the ship’s hatch, no phone calls from the police…nothing.

Before he quite realized where the time had gone the thrumming and the weird twisting sensation grew far more intense. Several children started crying, and the lights in the cargo container flickered for a moment. The countdown on the screens reached zero and then was replaced by the single word “LAUNCH!”. In the lower right hand corner of the screen an altitude indicator flickered from zero to one meter.

From somewhere behind him came an American-style “yee-haw” – oddly inflected. Despite himself Ashok laughed.

Outside dust and detritus went whipping around the warehouse’s courtyard as the ship lifted from its cradle. The forklift that they’d used to move the cradle into position leaned to one side, teetered, then fell over. The ship lifted slowly, then faster and faster. In seconds it was clear of the walls of the courtyard and continued accelerating straight up until it punched through the low clouds and was lost from sight.

Thirty seconds later a second ship lurched up from a welding shop five kilometers to the east. Ten seconds after that three more ships threw themselves into the sky, and then another, and then two more.

Each ship punched through the cloud cover.

Then, a moment later, the sky above Lucknow was calm.

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