by Paul D
A horrific discovery on Mars.
|Brian released his clinched hands from the armrests of his flight chair. The lander was on the ground. “We'll go directly to the habitat,” Commander Mark Graves announced.
The habitat was a series of ten modules that would be attached to become their home on Mars. They wouldn't survive long on this harsh planet without a controlled environment.
Brian checked the seal on Mark's environ suit while Mark examined his. Then they stepped into the airlock. A few moments later, they floated to the surface of Mars. They would communicate through the Personal Compact Computers on their left wrists.
Brian said, “PCC; gravs; 50 per cent.” He was now half of his body weight. He followed the commander toward the modules that were scattered on the ground to the east.
One small house size module had a large number one emblazoned in bright red on it. The Commander scanned his PCC, and a door slid open. They entered together, and Brian went to the environmental controls and set them for Earth normal. Then they exited the module and returned outside.
“The telescope is in crate forty-three,” Mark announced. A hundred crates lay about the ground in no particular order, and they started searching.
A few minutes later, Brian said, “I found it.” He placed four gravs on it and said, “PCC; gravs; supplemental; 99 percent.” He took the handle of the crate and easily pulled it behind him toward module one.
Fifteen minutes after reentering the module, Mark gave a thumbs up signal, and they removed their helmets from their environ suits. Brian opened the crate. The telescope was already assembled, except for the lens, which was packed in bubble wrap. He put in the lens and set the telescope in front of the east wall.
Mark scanned his PCC on the wall, and it slid to one side, revealing a window of transparent plastic that was as hard as steel. He looked through the telescope then stepped back. His face had acquired an ashen color.
Brian pressed his face into the telescope. He looked through the lens. He saw the horizon of Mars, and beyond it, Earth hung in space. He drew back and bowed his head. The sight was one he'd never expected.
* * *
Brian's journey to Mars began more than twelve years earlier in May of 2013. He remembered reading the news on his monitor: Manned mission to Mars. He'd just been graduated from M.I.T with a degree in computer science. Space travel was his dream, but he never expected to have an opportunity to participate in something like that. He sent in his application to be considered as one of the colonists. He learned later that over 200,000 applications were received.
This mission would not commence until 2025, and those accepted into the program would receive ten years of training. The mission itself would consist of three spacecraft of four crew each. Also one year before the mission lifted off, ten modules would be sent to orbit Mars. These modules would dock with one another to become Mars Space Station. As well, ten other modules would be sent to land on the surface of Mars. The colonists would use these to start their colony.
Over the next six months, he heard nothing about his application and forgot all about it, but then in December he received a notice in the mail that he was one of the one thousand who had been selected for a final interview.
He was beyond excited, but then he realized the interview was scheduled for the day he was to get married. Jennifer was the greatest girl in the world, but nothing could compare to this opportunity. He wondered how she would react if he asked her to postpone the wedding just in case he didn't become one of the finalists for the program.
A couple days later, he was on a flight to London. Jennifer had not been amused by his proposal to postpone the wedding. She'd dumped him on the spot and walked off. He wondered if he was making a mistake, but if he did not follow his dream, he was sure to regret it for the rest of his life. The flight seemed much longer than the time stated, but finally, an announcement to prepare for landing was made.
His next hour flew quickly as the plane landed, and he got his luggage and made his way to his hotel room. It was too early to go to bed, and he was not at all sleepy. Now he was concerned that his excitement would keep him awake all night, and he would be a zombie in the morning.
Brian opened his eyes. His head felt as if a jackhammer had been released inside it. He sat up and looked at the clock. It was past the time he'd requested for a wake-up call. He would have to get a quick shower and take off for the hotel conference room where the interviews would be held.
Outside the conference room was a large holding area for the interviewees. Fortunately, he brought a book, and he began to read, but he kept worrying over the interview to come that would dictate the rest of his life, so his focus on reading was distracted.
Interviews were a nightmare. Regardless of the preparation, there were bound to be questions that would throw him for a loop. What will I do if I'm not accepted?
He refused to answer that question. If he had any doubts about himself that would come across in the interview. Belief in his dream would help him actualize it. Numerous people were talking, but his nerves were so on edge, and he just needed to find a way to relax.
After what seemed almost forever, his name was called, and he proceeded to the conference room. He walked to a chair in front of a long conference table. There appeared to be at least twenty people waiting to interview him. He sat down and tried to get comfortable in the chair that was harder than a rock. Instantly, he felt like that proverbial bug under a microscope.
The questions ranged from his early youth, to the present, and into the future. The question that caused him to stumble was: “How do you feel about the requirement to marry one the Mission Mars crew members?”
He didn't answer for a moment because he'd not given enough consideration to this requirement. Finally, he said, “My mate and I would be in the same situation. In some ways, it would almost be like an arranged marriage; but with the same goals, we would find union in most of the aspects of our lives.”
* * *
Fiona hoped her interview for the Mars Mission went well. She needed to escape Earth and her so-called life. She did worry that her psychological batteries might reveal some deficiency within her, but she'd made it this far, so there was still hope.
Her name was called, and she hurried to the conference door. A young man was exiting as she was entering. He wasn't paying attention, and they collided. She clung to him to keep from falling.
He apologized profusely, and she assured him saying, “I'm okay.” She continued into the room.
“What's your name?” he called after her.
“Fiona,” she answered, but she doubted he heard her. She hated her name. She was in third grade when the Shrek movie came out, and the kids in school teased her mercilessly. The door closed behind her, and she continued to the chair. As she waited for the questions to begin, she thought of the man's handsome face and nice smelling cologne. I need to focus. Her sharp reminder was of little use to her nerves that were on a knife's edge.
The next hour flew by in a blur. She felt wrung out by the time she was dismissed. She left the room without a clue as to how the interview went.
“Fiona,” the loud shout of her name caught her by surprise. For a moment, she thought that it must be someone else, but the likelihood of another Fiona seemed absurd.
Then she saw the wave of a hand and the handsome face of the man who had run into her. She was puzzled that he was still here.
“How did the interview go?” he asked with a smile.
“I think your running into me put me off balance and made me answer every question wrong,” she teased.
He laughed. “Our encounter left me flummoxed as well.”
Fiona shook her head. “Is this what you call flirting? Btw, what's your name?”
“I'm Brian. What time do you want to go to dinner?”
“What's the rush?”
“No rush. I just want to ask you out before anyone else.”
Fiona nodded her head. “Ahhh, I see. In that case, come to my room at six.” She turned around and walked away.
She smiled at the sound of running feet behind her. “Hey, wait a minute. What's the room number?”
That evening, Fiona was surprised at how easily they conversed. Guys had always been a foreign country to her, but Brian was so different and too handsome. He could have the pick of any girl. It made no sense that he even wanted to spend time with her. Toward the end of the dinner, she wondered what he wanted from her.
“We have two days of nail biting before the results of the interview,” Brian remarked.
“Why are you having dinner with me?”
Brian gave her an impish smile. “I'm hungry . . . and I like you.”
The two days before the results passed quicker than Fiona thought possible. It seemed as if she and Brian had spent every moment of that time together. She didn't understand their connection; it was inexplicable.
Finally, the day came and all the interviewees gathered to hear the results.
* * *
“Mars Space Station is now in sight.” Fiona opened her eyes. The Commander's voice from her PCC had awakened her. She turned her head and looked out the small port window. The blackness of space was filled with the twinkling of stars. Almost twelve years after her acceptance into the Mars Mission program, she was only a few hours from her destination. She was beyond excited.
She nudged Brian. “Hey sleepy head wake up. You don't want to miss this.”
He groaned. “I hope it's not a meteor again.”
She smiled. “Mars station has been sighted.”
Mark squeezed her hand. “That's very good news. Everyone will be rejoicing over finally getting here.”
Don and Nancy Clarke sat behind her and Brian in Mars Two. Commander Graves and his wife, Moria, along with Wilson and Linda Felix were in Mars One, and Gordon and Asia Phelps as well as Bert and Gloria Dent were in Mars Three.
“Communication with Earth has ceased,” the Commander announced.
Fiona looked at Brian. “It could be a solar flare,” he added.
“I hope it clears up soon.” Fiona didn't want to think of what else it could be.
A few hours later, they waited in space for the space station on its orbit around Mars. “Now, this ninety minute wait will be a long one.”
Fiona smiled at Brian. He always wanted to be doing something. “Waiting is good for you.”
“Says who? Maybe we can get a card game going. That will help to pass the time.”
Fiona had not won a game, and she wanted to shout victory at the sight of four aces. She was startled when Commander Graves voice sounded, “Prepare for docking.”
She .laid down the cards, and they all resumed their seats, and one by one the ships docked at the space station. They remained on their craft while a drobbie explored the station to verify that each module was locked in place.
“The space station is ready to receive us,” the Commander announced.
Brian went to the airlock with Fiona. They entered together, and a few moments later, they entered the space station. Fiona was grateful for her gravs, which allowed her to walk the narrow passageways. The first thing that struck her was the newness and brightness of the place. It had that new smell to it.
“Everyone come to communications,” the Commander said.
The communications area was not large, and most of them stood in the hallway outside of the room. Mark said, “Communications with Earth has been cut off for more than four hours. I do not see a reason for concern yet, but I want to get more information. There is a telescope on the planet that we can use to look at the Earth. Brian will come with me to the surface.”
Fiona paced the halls of the space station. I'm not worried about Brian, and regardless of how many times she assured herself that he was safe, she just couldn't help but to think of what could go wrong.
Time truly did come to a stand still as she waited for his call, which he'd earnestly promised to make. She was tempted to call him, but he would call . . . he would . . . he had better call.
“Sweetie,” his voice came from her PCC.
“Brian are you okay?”
His voice sounded deflated as if there was nothing left in it.
“What's wrong, Brian?”
“I don't know how to say this. Maybe I should wait until we return.”
“I want to know. Please, tell me.”
“I saw Earth.”
His silence after those words struck fear into her mind. “Go on.”
“It was . . . a ball . . . of smoke and fire. It was horrible.”
Fiona sank to her knees and wept.