Blue Darker Than Black

By: Mike Jenne

For Andrew Grant Hindman,

A young man who appreciates the treasures found in words and numbers:

Dream big, as big as the sky, and follow fast after those dreams.

Author’s Note

The Cold War is raging—a highly classified AF space program—in modified Gemini capsules—astronauts fly missions to intercept and destroy Soviet satellites suspected of carrying nuclear weapons. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, project Blue Gemini is led by Air Force Major General Mark Tew (whose health is progressively failing) and his civilian deputy, retired General Virgil Wolcott.

Scott Ourecky joined the Air Force as a brilliant engineer and mathematician, but repeatedly failed the aptitude test to become a pilot. His recognized ability sees him take right seat in a flight to space with the most proficient pilot assigned to the Project, Major Drew Carson (who yearns to fly in combat in Vietnam).

A Delta Airlines stewardess, Bea Harper, daughter of an Air Force pilot killed in the Korean War, agreed to marry Ourecky only if he promises not to become a pilot.

Air Force Airman Matthew Henson is trained as a covert operative to support Blue Gemini's global search and rescue operation and is later dispatched to Africa to establish a contingency recovery site.

Two astronauts are killed in a launch accident during Blue Gemini’s maiden flight.

An Air Force sergeant, Eric Yost, a would-be spy, monitors the Project’s hangar convinced they are hiding UFO remains. Deep in debt from gambling losses, he plans to contact several magazines.

Soviet Lieutenant General Rustam Abdirov is selected by the Soviet General Staff to develop Krepost, as a nuclear orbital bombardment system. Seeking a powerful, compact computer for the Krepost, Abdirov gets a protégé, Major General Gregor Yohzin to arrange a GRU (Soviet military intelligence) operative, Colonel Felix Federov to steal a Gemini computer from a Smithsonian Institution warehouse in Maryland and for Major Anatoly Morozov to go to Ohio to investigate rumors that the Air Force is storing captured UFOs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Before Apollo 11 astronauts land on the moon, Ourecky and Carson are secretly launched into orbit to intercept and destroy a suspect Soviet satellite. Despite a major power failure on their spacecraft, they disobey General Tew’s orders to return to Earth, and instead continue their mission. In so doing, they discover a previously unknown class of Soviet reconnaissance satellites. Upon their return to Earth, Tew grounds the pair.



Flight Crew Office

Aerospace Support Project, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio

2:35 p.m., Thursday, July 17, 1969

Pondering the most expedient solution to a complex equation, Major Scott Ourecky tapped his pencil eraser on the desktop, scratched his ear, and then reached for his favorite slide rule. He eased it from its cordovan leather sheath and admired it before placing it into action. The trusty Deitzgen slip-stick had served him well, from his college days in Nebraska to the ordnance research labs at Eglin, and now it had accompanied him all the way to orbit and back.

Since arriving at Blue Gemini over a year ago, he had come full circle on his tangential journey; he was now back to compiling calculation “cheat sheets” for future intercept missions and preparing formulas to be processed into computer programs. The only significant change was his environs; instead of laboring in the secluded depths of the Project’s basement, crammed into a musty space only slightly larger than a broom closet, he was afforded access to the spacious Flight Crew office on the second floor. It was the inner sanctum of the inner sanctum, and by virtue of having flown into space, he now possessed a permanent passkey to the pilots’ hallowed bastion. Perhaps only Bruce Wayne had a cooler asylum, but even that could be debated. Yes, Batman had his Bat Cave and a really groovy rocket-propelled car, but Ourecky’s office came complete with a ticket to orbit, even though his all-access pass was temporarily revoked.

His attention was distracted by a news alert faintly emanating from a radio on his desktop. Anxious, he twisted the volume knob on the small AM receiver and twiddled with its flimsy telescoping antenna to optimize the signal. Apollo 11 had blasted off yesterday morning; its three astronauts were well on their way to the moon, and he diligently tried to stay abreast of the mission. Half-expecting bad news, he breathed a sigh of relief as he listened to an announcer state that the lunar crew had fired the engine of their Service Module to successfully execute a mid-course correction maneuver. They were due to arrive in lunar orbit on Saturday, and if all went well, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would touch down on the moon on Sunday. Reflecting on the moment, Ourecky closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Men landing on the moon. It was almost too much to believe.

He opened his eyes to focus on a large color world map taped to the wall. A gift from Gunter Heydrich, autographed by all of the controllers in the Blue Gemini mission control facility, the chart was a mission tracking map for their flight in June. It depicted the graceful undulating parabolas of orbital paths tracing over the Earth’s surface, as well as the far-flung contingency recovery zones that would have been their safe harbor if the flight had ended early. Ourecky set aside his slide rule and looked at the heaping backlog of worksheets yet undone. Here, he was immersed in his natural element, applying arcane mathematics and physics to define the paths of objects in space, but he reminded himself that it was not long ago that he had actually followed those parabolas as he orbited the Earth.