Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. Dr. Who and associated characters are owned by the BBC. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged. Legion of Lawndale Heroes created by James Bowman. This story occurs between chapters 14 and 15, beginning after Brother Grimace's LLH 'Mini': My Sister and Me
Quinn Morgendorffer slammed down on any thoughts of the dark-haired girl and focused again on driving. Though she could easily have flown, she found that driving forced her to pay attention to something, anything, other than her attraction to Danielle Todds.
Though it may have seemed boring, the Utah desert was far from it. The delicate colors and occasional flashes of life made the trip interesting. Thanks, Daria, for suggesting the trip. It's what I needed.
Ahead, she spotted the guardhouse and gate for the Quest Corporation's High Performance Test Range. Quinn rolled the car to a stop and presented her Legion ID. "Quinn Morgendorffer."
The guard checked the ID closely and then a list on a clipboard. He pressed a button to raise the gate before saying, "Welcome to the HPTR, Ms. Morgendorffer. Please proceed straight ahead and Lieutenant Springer will meet you at the first building on the left. Have a nice day."
"Thanks," Quinn said.
Accelerating down the road, she thought back to her USAES visit and remembered a tall, lanky, blonde, green-eyed cadet. "Something with a K…K…Kelly, that was her name."
It was at least a mile to the first building, a single-story concrete block office building that exuded a dull, institutional look of the fifties. Out front, Quinn saw a single figure, who looked up from viewing a tablet computer, waved and pointed to a parking space.
Quinn followed the directions and shut off the car. Stepping out of the car, a cool breeze hit her, forcing her to pull her jacket tighter.
Kelly Springer cheerfully extended her hand, saying, "Hi, Quinn. Good to see you again."
Quinn shook her hand and said, "Nice to see you, too."
"Dr. Blumenberg is busy with some VIPs right now, so I get to give you the tour. I hope that's all right with you."
"I'm okay." Pushing back through her memory to remember details, Quinn said, "You were big on aerospace and piloting."
Sally held up her tablet, "Biography of Sally Ride. Yeah, I'm a space geek. Come on, let's have a look around. You're really going to like the new Gridrunner-OTS"
"OTS? It sounds like some kind of hygiene product."
Kelly laughed. "Orbital Transport System. What's worse, the engineers are calling it Otis."
Quinn said, "You said Orbital, like, into space?"
"That's the plan."
"Oh, yeah, wow. The big news today is the first full-on test firing of the CRADLE booster that they hope will push the OTS into orbit. We'll meet Dr. Blumenberg at the observation bunker."
Quinn grinned. "Oh, this should make some of the guys back at the Legion jealous."
"Is this part of a NASA project?"
"Nope, completely Quest. They're looking at the commercial space market to fill the void left by the shuttle and since SpaceX has only launched their Dragon capsule on the Falcon 9 once, the opportunity is there."
"When Daria and I were little, my parents took us to the space center in Houston."
"What did you think?"
"That was back when I was a brat, so I didn't get much out of it. I think Dad was the most excited. Have you been there?"
"Oh, yes. There, Marshall, and Kennedy. Like I said, a space geek and have been since I was a little girl."
"I think it's neat. I wish I'd had a motivation like that when I was younger."
Quinn shook her head. "Like I said, I used to be a brat. So, show me?"
Kelly said, "After mid-air refueling, the OTS will pull up into a maximum efficiency climb until the scramjet reaches its upper altitude of 145,000 feet. That's when the CRADLE boosters kick in. After a six minute burn, the craft will be in orbit and the orbital thrusters will take over. On return, the craft will make an unpowered re-entry like the shuttle until the scramjets can be ignited. From there, they can make a regular, powered descent."
"What about re-entry heat?"
"Additional secondary adamantium coating on the hull with a force screen to dissipate heat."
Kelly led Quinn onto a glass-enclosed observation platform above the work floor of the hanger. Below them was the almost complete Gridrunner-OTS. The craft looked like a flattened wedge with twin vertical and two stubby horizontal stabilizers situated aft. A shallow rise on the upper surface accommodated the cockpit windows. Underneath, the wedge curved to encase the scramjet engines. It was overall white with Quest logos on the rudders."
"Isn't she a beauty?" Kelly asked.
"I don't know about beauty, but she looks impressive," Quinn said.
"Impressive is what's inside. With uprated versions of the Atmospheric Processor Units and Water Recovery Systems used on the International Space Station, along with a Power Converter Unit that allow certain metahumans to power the ship systems, it could hypothetically stay in orbit for months at a time. With a powerful enough metahuman, it could make it to the Moon."
"I'd love to be the first one to fly it. After all, it's about time a woman got first shot at a hot, new spacecraft. After all, they wouldn't even give the Mercury Thirteen a chance."
Quinn gave her a puzzled look. "I'm a bit hazy, but I remember seven."
"Seven men. Through private funding thirteen women went through much of the same testing as the men, but NASA would not even allow them to complete the testing for a chance at flying. Even after Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space flying Vostok Six."
"Yeah, it did. The United States didn't even accept women until 1978 and it was 1983 before Sally Ride first flew."
"I remember hearing about her." Quinn cringed inwardly at the memory of Ms. Barch talking about the astronaut, and struggled to separate the astronaut from a bad association with her former teacher.
"I used to have a poster of her in my room," Kelly said. "Do you know she runs a company that targets science to girls?"
"No." Quinn fought again with her memories.
"Are you all right?" Kelly asked.
"You looked like something was bothering you."
"Sorry, dealing with some bad memories."
"It's not your fault. You heard about what happened to the Legion recently in Kansas, right?"
"Yeah, I was briefed. Oh, she used to teach at your high school."
"And she pushed science on all the girls – while hating all the guys."
Quinn sighed. "I'm sure that Ms. Ride is nothing like that."
"Doctor, actually," Kelly said.
"Tell me some more."
"She was also the youngest astronaut to go into space."
A Quest technician approached the young women and said, "Excuse me, Lieutenant - Ms. Morgendorffer. Dr. Blumenberg asked me to escort you to the observation bunker for today's test.
"This should be great," Kelly said. To the technician, she replied, "Thank you."
"Follow me, please."
He escorted them to a waiting minivan, where he opened the side door to allow them to sit down before climbing into the driver's seat. "It will take a few minutes to reach the test range."
On the way, Kelly said, "They tell me that the CRADLE uses new matrix for the solid fuel. Instead of the old rubber-like material, this is more like an aerogel that holds three times as much propellant and oxidizer per volume, giving the booster triple the burn time of the Shuttle SRBs."
"You've really learned a lot about all of this."
Kelly grinned. "Like I told you before – I want to be the first to fly it."
Quinn recognized Prof. Richard Blumenberg when she entered the viewing room, but not the slender, silver-haired man beside him. However, Kelly stopped cold. "Oh, my God."
Prof. Blumenberg and his guest turned. Blumenberg said, "Cadet Springer, Ms. Morgendorffer, good afternoon. Please say hello to my guest, Capt. John Young. John, Cadet Springer is here for training from USAES, and Ms. Morgendorffer is a Legion representative."
Kelly swallowed hard to regain her composure and then shook his hand. "It's an honor, sir. I know it sounds silly, but I hope to be an astronaut like you."
Capt. Young gently smiled. "That's not silly at all. I'm sure you'll will and trust me, the view is worth it."
"Um, hi," Quinn said, feeling embarrassed that she did not recognize the man."
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Morgendorffer. You and your teammates are an inspiration."
"Thanks," she said, feeling even more embarrassed that he seemed to know about her.
"I understand that the two of you were visiting the Gridrunner OTS integration facility."
Kelly grinned. "I get excited each time I see it."
Looking wistful, Capt. Young said, "The test pilot in me would love to be the first to fly it."
Prof. Blumenberg said, "Not satisfied with your first flights on Gemini and the Shuttle, John?"
"Richard, once a test pilot, always a test pilot," Capt. Young replied. "But, it's time for another generation to take the yoke. Perhaps someone like the Lieutenant, here."
"I'd jump at the chance to be the first woman to pilot a maiden flight of a spacecraft," Kelly said.
Capt. Young nodded, but before he could speak, a voice on the PA said, "All systems are go. Ignition in ten seconds."
All four turned to look through the thick glass toward the booster strapped horizontally to the ground at the test stand over two miles away. When the countdown reached zero, yellow-orange flame erupted from the booster and across the test apron.
"Looks good," Prof. Blumenberg said.
While the others were watching, Quinn whispered, "This is embarrassing, but who is he?"
"He's a legend in the Astronaut Corps," Kelly said. "Two missions each with Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle, plus walked on the Moon."
"Wow is a good word to describe him."
Without further conversation, they stood, transfixed at the sight while the booster ran for its full six-minute run. At the end, the flame faded and with a single puff, stopped.
"Congratulations," Capt. Young said. Turning to Kelly, he added. "I like your ambition."
Quinn said, "She wants to be another Sally Ride."
Capt. Young briefly smiled, but a quick shadow passed over his face.
Kelly said, "Is there something wrong with that?"
He sighed. "Not at all, young lady. Please keep this to yourselves. Among us old astronauts, we've learned that Dr. Ride has pancreatic cancer. The prognosis is poor, she probably has less than a year. She doesn't want a lot of attention."
"Damn," Kelly said.
Getting an idea, Quinn pulled Prof. Blumenberg aside. "May I suggest something?"
Standing beside Prof. Blumenberg and Kelly, Quinn smiled as she looked down at the painters peeling the last of the spray masks from the side of the spacecraft to reveal a new name.
Prof. Blumenberg said, "Good idea, Ms. Morgendorffer."
Feeling good, she said, "Thanks."
Kelly put her hand on Quinn's shoulder. "Now you know that I really need to fly her."
Back on the road on the way to her hotel, Quinn felt pleased about the visit and let her mind drift over to other things.
Thanks to Brother Grimace for beta reading.
On the 30th anniversary of Dr. Sally Ride's historic flight on STS-7, 18 June, 1983.