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Nehemiah LLC

Nehemiah LLC

Автором Michael J. Findley

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Nehemiah LLC

Автором Michael J. Findley

224 pages
3 hours
Aug 17, 2015


Joan Cohen's people have thrived beneath Mars' turbulent surface by turning sandblasted caverns into cozy living areas, parkways and farms. The Nehemiah LLC group is both a strongly-knit, deeply faith-driven community and a team of life support experts. 

Anthony Lewis is a quirky engineer, an outsider with a million questions about schedules, deadlines, and why Joan does what she does. Can they overcome their differences long enough to save their Space Empire from a crippling shortage of resources? 

The gas-collecting balloon ship Sojourner lies dead in space, its life support inexplicably frozen. One lost repair ship means searching a vast maze of tubing. A single failed component planetside can halt dozens of projects and jeopardize the countdown to a critical launch window. 

No light sabres. No warp drive. It's more like the real thing -- an Apollo mission plus floating farms plus Martian underground parks. "It won't fail because of me" takes on a whole new meaning. 

"So we can move people in in three or four days?" asked Anthony. 
"Well, after we finish sandblasting..." said Joan. 
"So this is sandblasting?" asked Anthony. 
"Well, he can say something besides 'How long will this take?'" said Joan. "After the sandblasting is finished, however long that takes, then the room is sprayed with foam insulation. The foam stabilizes the temperature and seals the room from air leaks. It also protects the room from minor vibration. At that point the people who build the room come in with plumbing, electrical, temperature control, walls, air quality and pressure. The next day after they are finished the furniture moves in, and then the people. So, it's a minimum of a week. It's more if you leave because there is no one else to operate your sandblaster. Then we train them how to build more rooms and we go on to something else." 
"Like what?" asked Anthony. 
"You spend your entire life dreaming up ways to give other people work," said Joan. "Stick around and do some of the work yourself. Let me give you a list. We could do more sandblasting. There are at least a hundred projects that need enlargement. If that's not to your taste, we could fill with foam insulation, finish rooms, weld, install furniture, work on making the roof of the production area open to the surface, enlarge the life support systems to cover the new area, synthesize more air and water, transport materials ... " 
"I really like one thing you said," interrupted Anthony. "That's the 'we could' part."

Aug 17, 2015

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Nehemiah LLC - Michael J. Findley


Chapter One: The Announcement

It was a dark and stormy night. It was usually a dark and stormy night in the Martian Valles Marineris canyon. But the members of the Nehemiah Group, Life Support Division, did not hear, feel or even know about the storm outside. Four meters of rock with another meter of insulation, then a soundproof wall kept the breathable air inside and the storms outside. The rooms were also protected by the width of the room itself. Each door faced north in the south wall. They slept soundly.

The cavernous 300-meter-long room had no monitor on, only a soft glow of a bluish light that illuminated everything in something akin to moonlight. The trees rustled slightly and the water gurgled. At the far end of the room, bees buzzed almost imperceptibly. At the back of the room, if something so vast could be called a room, at the top of the seventh step of the amphitheatre-like floor, were dozens of doors.

A door in the middle and one on either end led out to the main hallways of Nehemiah, LLC. The other doors all led to personal quarters. They were all locked with no sounds coming from inside.

Soft music, something like a chime, began playing from a small monitor on the wall opposite the doors. The largest door opened and an older man with a close cropped beard finished dressing, closed the door behind him and crossed the thirty to forty meters down the stairs and over to the monitor. The music crescendoed before he was able touch the monitor to silence it. A jovial face about the same age, complexion, beard and hairstyle appeared.

Ishmael, it’s not yet 0600 on the Sabbath, said the slightly irritated man speaking to the face on the monitor.

"Zach, they bought the Sojourner, said Ishmael. Last night, during your Sabbath service, the Nehemiah Group bought the Sojourner."

Please don’t call me ‘Zach.’ Said the man facing the monitor. My name is Zacharias.

Well, you can still call me Ish. Everyone else does. Just because your Kibbutz is so formal doesn’t mean I have to be.

We are not a Kibbutz, said Zacharias. We are Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and donate as much as we can to help Jews in Israel.

Call it whatever you want, it sounds like a Kibbutz to me, said Ishmael. Anyway, whatever, you are now a very powerful group.

We are not after power, said Zacharias.

Well, money is power, said Ishmael. I assume that you are still following your Sabbath rituals today?

The Sabbath is part of the ten commandments, which were not set aside by Christ fulfilling the Law, said Zacharias. We will not be sacrificing any animals, but we will stay home for the Sabbath. Any of our brothers in Christ are welcome to come. Then tomorrow we will attend your gentile services.

The board told me that’s what you do, said Ishmael. "So on Monday your entire Kibbutz, or whatever you call yourselves, will be transported to the Sojourner docked to Phobos."

We could go after the midday meal tomorrow, if there is a rush, said Zacharias.

Launch window opens in about 4 months, said Ishmael. Nehemiah, LLC wants to launch ASAP. Engineering believes they have the product transport, guidance and shielding issues solved. Life support is still a complete failure at this point. So everything depends on you guys.

Is there anything else we need at this time? asked Zacharias.

More than I could imagine, said Ishmael. It’s all sent over to you. Well, see you tomorrow. After dinner then?

Zacharias smiled and nodded. "Shalom. Peace to you, my brother."

Peace be with you, my brother, said Ishmael as the screen went dark.

Zacharias waved his hands over two banks of sensors as the various lights came on and a veritable forest awoke. Birds began chirping, near silent breezes began to rustle the willows, the water rushed more rapidly, and harp music began to play.

Who was that? asked Zeruiah. It must be important to awaken us so early on the Sabbath.

Ah, most beautiful of women, smiled Zacharias. He walked over and kissed his wife. "Nehemiah, LLC has purchased the Sojourner."

Zeruiah stepped back, put her hands over mouth. We—they—I mean—I’m not sure what I mean. We’re challenging the Royals?

"The engineers are unable to get the life support systems to work. They want all of us on Phobos to check out the Sojourner’s systems," said Zacharias.

You mean they need us, said Joab, a huge, husky man just over two meters tall.

Doors opened all up and down the top level and dozens of men and women came down to the center where Zacharias and Zeruiah stood. Most of them barely came up to Joab’s shoulders.

Is anyone still in the rooms? asked Zacharias. People looked around.

All the doors are open, said Joab. Anyone still in their room can still hear you.

Zacharias moved to a central point before speaking. "Ishmael just contacted me. Nehemiah, LLC purchased the Sojourner last night. We will transport up to Phobos to examine her tomorrow after the noon meal. The engineers need us to make the life support systems fully functional. Now, let us prepare to worship the Lord."

While most went back to their rooms, several began picking fruit. Two women opened a door which revealed baskets with sweet cakes prepared the day before. To each basket was added a freshly picked apple, orange, fig or pomegranate. The baskets, each with a glass of water, were placed in a rough semicircle next to pillows on the floor. Then they returned to their rooms as others came to set up the podium.

Joab stood behind the podium wearing a robe and a prayer shawl. Let us give thanks for what the Lord has so graciously provided.

Chapter Two: The Problem

The balloon ship Sojourner was docked to the tiny Martian moon Phobos. The mooring lines allowed the Sojourner to sway slightly as she traveled alongside of the much smaller moon. Empty of her cargo of methane from Titan, the moon of Saturn, the spheres which held her cargo and the rings which supported the spheres were bright blue. Loaded with a methane cargo, the transparent balloon ship turned to a greenish-yellow. The connecting tubes were still attached, as were the mooring lines.

The slight movement of the Sojourner through the mooring lines caused a very deep and unsettling rumble throughout the Phobos base. The connecting tubes required a door on the Phobos base to remain open to space, so the shuttles from the planet’s surface had to discharge their passengers into this open bay. Many of these passengers had never worn a space suit before, especially the women. Each airlock allowed a dozen to enter at a time. As they stepped out of the airlock, the entire group stayed suited, removing only their helmets. Hundreds milled about in small groups.

My name is Abishai, son of Zacharias. This is my brother Joab. This is a little different from anything we’ve done before.

"I’m Mark, and this is my wife, Michele. Until Friday, we were the owners of the Sojourner."

I’m Joan. I thought you were going back to Titan again.

We were, until life support failed completely.

So, why are we here? asked Zacharias. We could have examined the problem in greater comfort and with better equipment back on Mars.

If we had any idea what the problem was, said Michele, that would be a great idea.

"So who designed the Sojourner?" asked Joab

We followed the old design of an Oxygen Transport ship, said Mark. Michele and I both designed and worked on the modifications. We added twenty-two layers and enlarged the living quarters. We also thickened the outer layers to help keep the core warmer. Somewhere, the entire atmosphere vented to space

Were you on board when this happened? asked Joan.

No, we were planetside with our children, said Michele. I think we could have fixed, or at least found the problem before it became catastrophic if we had been on board.

May I have your attention please, came a voice like a loudspeaker, without a speaker. We have schematics in the main conference room on monitors. Zacharias, Zeruiah and Joab will divide you into inspection groups of four inspectors each. Please understand: one person in each group must have Level IV repair shuttle experience and certification. One other must be certified to repair in an explosive environment, including welding. We originally wanted this person to have Level One certification, but there are only twenty of you with Level One Explosive Environment certification and only half of those have experience. Please study the schematics while you are waiting for your group assignment.

The many who had never been to Phobos hesitated, while those who knew the way started toward the main conference room. There was far more information about the Sojourner than schematics and each person was soon immersed in the details. Zacharias and Joab began the slow work of personnel assignments.

Do you intend to build a dozen of these? Zeruiah asked James, the company rep. She found him on a platform above the main room. Though in full view of anyone who looked up, they were alone. No one could hear them unless they paid careful attention, which they were not.

We do not have any specific number in mind, James replied. "The methane the Sojourner brought back has what might be thought of as impurities, but it can be used to synthesize water."

Water? asked Zeruiah.

Among other things, said James. We have found that—no, we understand... That’s not right either. It will be more valuable than petroleum. It will eventually control the Space Empire. It can be used as a base to make almost anything.

What are you planning? asked Zeruiah.

Balloon ships,; as many as we can make, as fast as we can make them, said James.

"Are you planning to use the Sojourner for runs, or are you just going to use it for backwards engineering?" asked Zeruiah.

We need more balloon ships than we can make. But we are not sending out ships that are not safe, said James. "You need to convince me that the Sojourner is either safe, can be made safe, or cannot be made safe."

You cannot send a balloon ship that deep into space by itself. If anything goes wrong, anything at all, those people are dead, said Zeruiah. And the crew is too small. It must be manned 24/7.

How many ships and how many people per ship, minimum for life support? asked James.

A dozen ships and a dozen crewmen on each ship, said Zeruiah.

That was fast, said James. "You haven’t even seen the Sojourner yet. Where did you get those numbers?"

"First, when God invaded Canaan, He used twelve tribes. Second, this isn’t exactly news. We have studied this ever since the Sojourner successfully harvested the first batch of methane from Titan four years ago, said Zeruiah. Twelve ships, each six times the size of the Sojourner, is the minimum number to bring everyone back alive in case of catastrophic failure. And they need to be able to transport from ship to ship while in transit."

That is more than a tall order, said James. We need to pay for twelve ships. At this time, we cannot do it.

"If you’re not prepared to carry through, then why did you buy the Sojourner?" asked Zeruiah.

You told us what is safe, said James. And I believe you knew what I would say. So what is doable at high risk?

One ship with a crew of two is a suicide mission, said Zeruiah. "If this malfunction had happened in space, not only would Mark and Michele be dead, the Sojourner would be drifting in space off the ecliptic plane, the cargo lost and probably no hope of ever finding it."

That’s not what I asked, said James.

What can you put together in four months? asked Zeruiah. "The Sojourner took four years. Four years after they bought the Oxygen Transport. Four years retrofitting an existing balloon ship. What do you have?"

We can build the individual gelatin spheres. We are producing them on Deimos now, said James.

"So that’s why you bought the Sojourner, said Zeruiah. You are backwards engineering."

"We can enlarge the Sojourner by putting on more layers, said James. We also need to convert the layers to contain liquid instead of compressed gas. The lifepod will be much larger, probably twenty times larger. Is that big enough for you? Oxygen Transports have two passenger life pods that can be used to move people from ship to ship, though I’ve never found any information about one that was actually used. We cannot make them any wider because they puncture the gelatin."

Why do you believe the life support system failed? asked Zeruiah.

We downloaded the error logs. What we cannot understand is how they made it back alive. Something was malfunctioning constantly, said James. The entire crew area must be replaced. The burners are inefficient and will not run on liquid methane.

So how many ships can you have ready by the next window? asked Zeruiah.

Three, said James. We can launch with a maximum of three balloon ships.

And how many on each ship? asked Zeruiah.

More, said James. Engineering told us five. We’ll double that.

Three people on duty per shift, twelve-hour shifts, switching off, so two alternating shifts per time slot, so 2 full shifts per week. Said Zeruiah. Total minimum needed are twelve. And each ship needs its own doctor.

Twelve, repeated James.

Twelve people to work, said Zeruiah. That does not include anyone at all except a skeleton crew. Add officers, anyone to backup, if you need extra people to do anything besides routine maintenance.

Twelve, repeated James.

More, repeated Zeruiah.

Chapter Three: The Search


No response.


"Does anyone know the twenty of Ruth’s team?"

Negative, came an unrecognizable and highly-distorted voice. The panel accounted for all thirty-six repair ships.

Joab sent a general message. Can someone please let me know if ship-to-ship communications are working? It is possible ship-to-ship communications are out even though ship-to-shore is still working.

The list of ship and personnel matchups showed Ruth piloting Ship Twenty-seven. He pinged Ship Twenty-seven. No response.

Read you loud and clear. This is Tabitha. Ship-to-ship is also working.

Ship Twenty-seven, come in. Ruth, do you read? Over, said Joab. No response.

All repair ships, said Joab to the General Quarters channel. Ruth, repair ship twenty-seven, is not responding. The tracker shows ship twenty-seven inside the Burner Area. Perhaps the Burner Area has some shielding that is blocking radio communications.

Abishai, called Joab.

"Yes, Joab, Abishai responded.

Ship Twenty-seven, Ruth’s ship, is not responding. I’m tracking her as in the Burner Area. Can you look in on her, please?

Sure thing.

Joab highlighted both ships on his display, then took another call. Ship Thirty-two, Joel what’s your question?

Joab, we are on Level Ten, Sector Four-Five-Oh. Does your display match?


Just checking. The level marks aren’t matching our readouts.

What is your readout? asked Joab.

Level Eleven, Sector Four-Five-One. Same location, but one level above the markings.

Abishai, did you copy that? asked Joab.

Affirmative, said Abishai. No markings right in front of us. Let us check.

Abishai, I have you in a Latitude Tube on Level Two heading toward the Z-axis Support Tube, said Joab.

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