10. Vomit Comet

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16 of Woof Space Cadets This is the first version of the Vomit Comet story. This has been sitting in this state for months. I hate the pacing of it because in reality they would fly something like twenty or forty sets of parabolic arches, cycling back and forth between microgravity and +2G. That sounds exciting when summarized in one sentence, but becomes monotonous when I have to keep announcing microgravity in thirty seconds. And I thought that Timby got sick too fast, especially after he got to be the cool kid and sit up with the pilots for take-off. So think of this one as a "cut scene" from a DVD.

There is a complete rewrite in the works, which approaches the problem of zero-G training in the comfort, safety, and economy of an atmosphere in a very different way.


  1. Vomit Comet V.1

Copyright © 2015 by Timberwoof Lupindo

Not for redistribution.

Inspection

The cadets entered the hangar; it contained a medium-sized jet-propelled passenger airplane. They were greeted by a ground-crew alpha.

"This is it, cadets, the Vomit Comet. Time for a preflight inspection. Walk around the bird, note any problems you see. When you've approved this airplane, we will take it for a flight. Now move."

Timby and the other cadets walked around the airplane; some oohed and ahhed; others took the inspection seriously.

"Are those tires supposed to bulge like that?"

"I dunno."

"Crew Alpha! Bring us a tire pressure gauge. Test these tires and report."

"Aye, Cadet."

A crew-woof joined some of the cadets who had clustered around the right main landing gear. He pulled a pen-shaped tire-pressure gauge from his sleeve. They watched as the technician tested the tire pressures.

"14 atmospheres. ... 15.7... 12.9 ... 16."

"What are they supposed to be?"

"17."

"Uh huh. Are those tires supposed to be cracked like that?"

"No."

One of the cadets reached up and banged on an access panel in the belly of the fuselage. It popped open.

"I bet that's not supposed to happen. And look at this: leaking hydraulic fluid. What a hunk of junk. Who's in charge of this airplane?"

"I am, Cadet," said the crew alpha.

"Well, we're not flying in this."

The alpha grinned a sly grin.

"That's right, Cadet. You're not. This old bucket of bolts is our crew inspection test pile of junk. You did well on the inspection test. Your airplane is outside on the taxi way. Follow me."

The cadets looked at each other. They were rather pleased that they had found those problems.

Timby had never been in an airplane before, so he was all eyes and ears examining this one. They entered at the front, behind the pilot's cabin; Timby wasn't shy about looking in at all the controls and instruments. He rejoined the other cadets in the passenger compartment where they retrieved flight helmets from the compartments. These they strapped on. They had to fold their ears back to make them fit. They looked at each other; it was as though everyone was submissive.

Timby put his paws up behind his head and pretended to have ears. "I'm an Alpha. I should have my ears up."

The pilot showed up; his helmet had sticky-outy ears.

"You mean like this?"

He smiled at the cadets.

Takeoff

"Welcome aboard. Cadets, check your harnesses; crew woofs double check and report. We'll be taking off as soon as I get clearance. Where's that cadet who was all eyes in the cockpit?"

Timby raised his paw. "Here, Alpha."

"Come with me."

Timby's eyes went wide. "Yes, Alpha!"

He unsnapped his harness and followed the pilot forward to the control deck.

"I saw those dreamy eyes of yours when you were inspecting the flight deck. You can sit up here with us for the take-off under one condition: Don't touch anything!"

"Touch nothing, Aye!"

"Nice action. Sit down, strap in, shut up, and enjoy the ride."

Timby did as told. He sat in the aft left seat, across from the flight engineer and behind the pilots. He strapped on the safety harness: not juts a lap belt as in the passenger compartment, but also belts for the shoulders. He was glad for the practice armor; it hid the knot he was getting from the excitement of strapping in on the flight deck. He looked all around, but kept his paws to himself.

He looked over at the flight engineer's station.

"Alpha," said the engineer. "Permission to supervise the cadet following along on the preflight checklist."

"Permission granted."

"Cadet, activate the console in front of you. Choose Preflight Checklist."

"Preflight Checklist aye."

Timby touched the power button. The screen lit up with the general menu. He found Preflight Checkout (Observer) and touched that. The display changed to a list of switch positions and configuration checks, which Timby followed along and watched as the items were done. He listened to the flight crews's chatter and communications.

"Tarkel Interplanetary, Space Academy flight Vomit Comet requesting clearance to taxi to takeoff point."

"Vomit Comet, Tarkel I.P. You are cleared to taxi to runway 250."

"Tarkel I. P. Acknowledged."

The pilot engaged the electric drive on the airplane's landing gear and they rumbled slowly across the pavement to the end of Runway 250. There they turned around and faced due west.

"Tarkel I.P., Vomit Comet. We are holding at Runway 250. Awaiting clearance for takeoff."

"Vomit Comet, Tarkel I.P. You will take off due west and climb to your cruising altitude, then begin your maneuvers. We'll see you back here in two hours with a cleanup crew. Best wishes to all the cadets. You are cleared for take-off."

"Tarkel I.P., Vomit Comet. Acknowledged. Brakes applied, throttling up. Engine check." The pilot pushed the throttle controls forward; Timby could hear the engines wind up.

"Engine check," said the flight engineer. "1, Aye. 2, Aye. 3 ... Aye. 4, Aye."

"Releasing brakes," said the pilot. "Here we go."

Timby felt the pressure on his back as the acceleration pressed him back into the seat. His seat was higher than the pilot's, so he could see forward down the runway as they sped up.

"V1 attained," said the engineer. "Begin rotation."

"Rotation aye." The pilot pulled back on the yoke; the plane tiled back and Timby felt pressure in his butt with the upward acceleration. His heart pounded and he was all smiles as he ascended on his first airplane flight.

Several minutes later the pilot spoke over the plane's intercom.

"We have finished our takeoff climb. We'll be heading into our first upward parabola in three minutes. Crew, prepare your cadets.

"Observer cadet, unfasten your seat belt and join your classmates in the passenger compartment. Find a seat back there and get in it."

"Aye, Alpha. Thank you!"

Timby unfastened his seat belt with a click and made his way back to the passenger compartment. The other cadets were sitting in their jump-seats around the edge of the big open compartment; the instructor was talking. Timby got back into the seat he had vacated earlier.

"Cadets, we have just a minute or two to go. Remember the briefing from yesterday. Enjoy the ride!"

First Parabola

"Attention all paws," said the pilot over the intercom. "First parabola beginning. Prepare for microgravity."

Timby felt his insides lifting up; the was momentary panic as his body was telling him he was falling, falling...

"Woahh!" someone said.

"We're falling!"

"Woohoo!"

"Settle down. When you're ready, unfasten your harnesses and push yourself gently away from your seat."

Timby looked around. Woofs were tentatively pushing themselves away from their seats; he felt as though he was falling. He pushed up and joined the floating woofs. His stomach made him queasy but he tried nevertheless to participate in the training. The woofs upside down disturbed him. Timby grabbed a paw-hold and kept his attention on things and people who were right-side-up.

"Attention all paws. Gravity will be returning in thirty seconds. Find a piece of floor and get on it."

"Cadets, listen up. You heard the woof. Get to the floor and have some lie-down."

Timby gladly took the advice. He pulled himself to the floor and flattened himself against it. He watched as the other cadets did the same.

"All Paws, gravity in five seconds."

He left weight return ... a couple of cadets who had not heeded the warning flumped into the padded floor and laughed. Weight increased and it felt as though someone was sitting on him.

"Remember your training. Relax; move slowly. Or don't move at all."

They lay there in double gravity for two minutes...

"All paws, attention. Returning to microgravity in five seconds."

"Orion pack, listen up! Time to do some zero-G maneuvers. First, Medicine Ball. Timby, as Alpha, you get to volunteer for that. Curl up in a ball."

"Aye, Sir."

"The rest of you, form up in a cube. Anchor yourselves to these points here like this. Whoever's got Timby when the horn sounds, you're It for the next parabola."

Timby curled up into a ball, which was just as well ... and his pack-mates tossed him around from corner to corner of the cube they formed in the cabin. Occasionally he crashed into someone but as they were all locked into their practice armor and they all had helmets, it was all in good fun. He tried to ignore the complaints of his stomach.

"Attention. Gravity returning in five seconds."

"That's it. Grolfar, you're It! Find some floor and stick to it!"

They all found spots on the floor where they lay flat for two minutes, pressed into the padding.

Second Parabola

They returned to microgravity. As before, for Timby the sensation of falling was overwhelming. He gripped the seat and closed his eyes.

"Timby's not looking so good," someone said.

"Relax, Cadet. Take a breath."

Timby realized the trainer was talking to him. He breathed in.

"Good. Exhale slowly. Breathe in. Open your eyes."

Timby did. Some cadets were floating about.

"We're all safe here. Stay there in your seat and relax. Just keep breathing."

"Attention all paws. Prepare for double normal gravity in thirty seconds."

"Cadets, you heard the man. Find some floor and get on it. Come on, Timby, let's get you moved to the floor. Let me move you."

One of the trainers pulled him out of his seat and pushed him to the padded floor. He didn't resist, though his stomach was complaining fiercely.

"Attention. Gravity returning in five seconds."

Slowly at first, then firmly, Timby felt his weight returning ... and then with a vengeance. It was comforting in a way.

"Relax; just breathe. Don't move your head."

"Oh, I really don't want to move at all."

"Well, you're talking. That's a good sign. You'll be okay, cadet."

Third Parabola

"Attention all paws," said the pilot over the intercom. "Upward parabola beginning. Prepare for microgravity in five seconds."

Again, the falling sensation ... and his stomach told him it wasn't having any more of it.

"Oh, woof. I'm gonna woof. Where's the head?"

"Let's get you moved to the head. If you're gonna barf, it would be a lot better if you did it in gravity. Okay?"

"Okay. Which way's the head."

"Aft. This way."

"I can make it."

Timby grabbed some padded rails and climbed his way back. He concentrated on breathing and climbing; although his stomach really wanted to be rid of its breakfast, Timby did not want that embarrassment. And if he had to bear it, he would do so on his own.

"Attention all paws. The upward parabola is ending; prepare for double normal gravity in thirty seconds."

Timby had made it to the head. His mouth was watering and his stomach was cramping. He knelt in front of a toilet...

"Attention. Gravity returning in five seconds."

Not fast enough, thought Timby, and he heaved his breakfast into the bowl... and was pinned to the spot. Another heave and the last portion of breakfast was gone. Muzzle pressed into the toilet, he struggled to find the flush valve. The blue water swirled, taking with it the reminder of his shame.

He heard a faucet running.

"Get your muzzle out of that toilet, cadet! You're a mess; clean yourself up."

It was tricky to disengage from the toilet, what with the ten-pound weight on his head. He moved slowly and sat next to it. He took the washcloth that the trainer handed him; he wiped his muzzle off with it. He tried to stand up.

"Wait for the all clear. Then get up."

"Aye, Sir."

Fourth Parabola

"Attention all paws," said the pilot over the intercom. "Upward parabola beginning. Prepare for microgravity in five seconds."

Timby smirked. Weighed down by the extra gravity and his practice armor, he found himself looking forward to weightlessness ... even though it had played hell with his stomach.

The weight lifted. This was a lot easier. He thought about his stomach ... and it wasn't complaining. Yet.

"Are you good to go, Cadet?"

"Yes, Sir, I think so."

"Good action, Cadet. Go into it easy. We have eight more arcs before we turn around."

Timby returned to the main cabin. The trainers and most of the other cadets were floating about, pushing off the walls, working out how to move. Timby's pack noticed him.

"Timby! You're back! Where have you been?"

"I was doing some important in-flight maneuvers."

"Haha. Join us for some toss-woof?"

"I'll ... sit this out and supervise."

"Oh... I'm feeling green. Ugh," said one of Timby's pack-mates.

"Timby! You know the drill. Take care of your pack-mate."

"Aye."

"Close your eyes, breathe deep. Think of your favorite place back home."

"Unnh."

Gravity decreased again. Timby went to his pack-mate.

"Okay, take it easy. Come with me."

"This is so embarrassing."

"I'm your Pack alpha. If I can barf, you can, too. You'll feel better once you're done. Here's the head."

Timby wrinkled his nose. It was a bit stinky in here.

"Oh, woof. Urp!"

The woof heaved into the toilet. Timby poked the flush valve ... important in microgravity.

"That was good aim. Hang on a minute."

Timby prepared a wet washcloth.

"Here."

"Ugh. Thanks. I'm so embarrassed."

"Happens to the the best of us. You ready for gravity? You don't want to be kneeling here under two G. Don't ask me how I know."

The pack-mate looked at Timby and tried to grin. "Yeah."

"Let's clear out of here in case anyone else needs it."

They left the head just in time for the acceleration warning. They sat where they were.

"I hope this doesn't mean we're finished."

"Neah. They'll keep doing this till we're okay with it."

"Oh. Great."