We have landed on Mars! What we find could explain the origins of the human race...
Return From Mars Adam.R.Crump
Return From Mars - Part 4
The Heroes Return
We had been waiting with baited breath for a reply from Captain Price. Now that I knew what was behind the emergency I was even more worried. When we got it, Armistad almost choked.
The video came up on the screen and we saw Captain Price in a ship. Colonel Armistad frowned at this; they should be in the ground base, not the ship.
...Helios this is Ultor over...
Price was definitely on the ship.
...Helios I have made an emergency blow and am now heading back to Earth over...
Price had disobeyed orders.
...I know that it was against orders, but I had no other option over...
Armistad was not happy at all. He looked about ready to blow.
...Chris is in the morgue and Josh and Dylan are attached to life support. They are stable, but have shown no signs of responsiveness over...
Armistad was already reaching for the reply switch, his face a thundercloud.
...We should be home in two months over and out...
Armistad met with his small council immediately after we received Price's message. The council included; myself, Major Dion Grafton (his second in command), Anthony Herschel (his personal aide), Sarah O'Hara (the head of the science division), and Captain Tomas Peter (the captain of Helios Security). All of the council had seen the contents of the video and were part of the decision making team on the base.
The decision to come home had been unexpected, and Armistad called the meeting to order almost straight away, knowing that if he gave the council time to talk it would eventually cause them to take sides. This decision would have to be made as quickly as possible.
"We need to make a decision." The Colonel said, once everyone was quiet. "As far as I am concerned we only have two options. We can let the ship come home or we can destroy it when it comes into range of our missiles."
"There is only one option the way I see it." Captain Peter said. "We cannot allow the team to come home. They broke security protocol."
"The risk of there something being on the ship is too high." Sarah added. "Even with our quarantine measures we cannot guarantee that we can stop anything getting into this base."
"There is also the matter of Captain Price not following orders." Major Grafton added. "I know the Captain from when we were at West Point together. She was always a soldier; she would follow orders down to the last letter."
"Even if her team was in danger of losing their lives? I have known soldiers to ignore orders if it meant certain death. The Captain's hand may have been forced." Anthony added quietly.
That stopped the momentum of the conversation and gave the council a moment to think.
"What about you James?" Armistad asked. "You haven't said anything yet."
I coughed lightly.
"My opinion will not matter. This is a military operation now."
"I will decide whose opinion will matter and whose will not." The Colonel replied. "I will hear what you have to say."
I inclined my head.
"I think that destroying the ship is madness. If our missiles are found to have had a hand in the murder of four astronauts who are now considered heroes on Earth...I can't imagine the complications that would cause."
"The operation would be strictly under military authority. We could control who knew and who wouldn't." Major Grafton stated.
"Bullshit!" I exclaimed. "Something this big would not stay secret for long, and who knows how many media satellites there are floating around. I guarantee that if you did this, the news would be out within a week. You could deny it all you want, but you know that heads would roll."
"Are you saying that we cannot control our own people." The Major asked.
"No, I am saying that eventually the truth will come out, and once it does there will be hell to pay."
"Colonel, are you seriously going to take Celtigar's opinion into account? You know the risks of this mission, if there is any contamination..."
"I know the risks Major!" Armistad interrupted. "I was part of the team that designed secondary protocol. We went over all possible scenarios."
Armistad stared at the Major, until the soldier inclined his head and was quiet. Armistad then addressed the rest of us.
"My gut feeling is that we destroy that ship before it gets anywhere near that base, but Celtigar has a good point; this will get out, and when it does...well you are aware of what the media can do. I can see the headlines now. 'Martian Heroes - Vaporised by Moon Defences!' or 'Astronauts Murdered!' Pick your title people, but even both of them may be used."
The Colonel turned to Sarah.
"I want quarantine sealed tighter than treasuries asshole. Nothing gets in or out without our permission."
Then Captain Peter.
"Captain, I want you to get a Platoon of Delta Force troops up here ASAP. I will feel better with them around."
"Celtigar, I want you to get your people home. I want only military personal on this base in twenty four hour's time. Give them extended leave. Uncle Sam will pay for it."
Then Major Grafton.
"Major, I want you to see that it all happens smoothly and by the book."
Finally he turned to Anthony.
"Herschel, I want you to make the necessary arrangements to make sure that our people have everything that they will need."
The Colonel sighed.
"I am not going to lie to you people! This is serious; it is not the time for fuck ups. It goes smooth and by the numbers; nothing happens without my say so, does everyone understand?"
Everyone in the room nodded, no one questioned the Colonel. You could tell they weren't happy with the decision, but they were soldiers and they would follow orders.
As for me? I was relieved. The astronauts would not be killed. Little did I know that my decision would cause the chaos it did.
Amistad himself replied to Price's message. There would be quarantine and a court martial when Price returned, but really there was nothing else that could be done. The astronauts were on their way home, whether Colonel Armistad wanted them to or not. Armistads hands were tied.
There was two months before the crew returned home, so as soon as Armistad had informed Earth we began preparations to receive the astronauts.
By the time the astronauts were within range of Earth Armistads department was crawling over the base working to best see how to resolve the problem we were now facing.
Scientists had arrived and were worried that the men had picked up a virus on Mars that they would bring back with them. They had set up a quarantine area on the moon base to make sure that if anything untoward returned with the ship it would be contained. They were taking no chances and the quarantine area was near impregnable.
Captain Peter had done his job and there was now a Platoon of 1st SFOD-D Delta Force Troops working within the moon base. I now appreciated the power that Amistad's department commanded. Delta Force did not play security for anyone, and they wouldn't have been deployed for a minor issue. These boys were the best of the best, and to have them on the base required the kind of persuasive power that only comes from behind the scenes political players.
Armistad had told me that the Delta Force troops were under strict orders to destroy any threat that arrived with the ship, and they all took their job very seriously. All of the Delta Force soldiers carried M4A1 Carbines with M230 grenade launcher attachments. With the shorter barrel the M4A1 Carbines were more effective in close quarters combat which would be the case on the moon base, if needs be. They also carried a M1911 .45 caliber sidearm, which could put a hole in you the size of a frying pan.
When they had first arrived I had walked past a sniper cleaning an enormous M82A1 Barrett Snipers Rifle; beside him was an immaculately clean carbine and side arm. I had jokingly asked if he had enough firepower. The sniper had raised an eyebrow, not understanding the jest. 'You can never have enough firepower!' I nodded, and then realising he had not understood the jest, walked away. The Delta boys were elite in everything they did, but they failed handsomely when it came to having a sense of humour.
The civilian population had been sent home (I had told them that they would be having one week's fully paid holiday, for all the hard work they had done over the last few months, I only hoped that Armistad promise of Uncle Sam paying their wages was true). The only people left now were the ones that would be needed in the next week to see that the mission ran as smoothly coming home as it did getting there. All in all there were around seventy five people in Helios when the 'Ultor' docked and unloaded its cargo. Seventy five people whose families would never see them again...
The 'Ultor' arrived exactly when Captain Price said they would. The great metal hulk of the ship was pocked with craters, scars and space dust.
It was the Captain whose voice came over the radio.
"Helios...I never thought I would say this but the moon never looked so good over."
Unfortunately, judging by the looks on the faces of those in mission control, no one in the moon base shared the same feeling.
"Ultor...Helios is glad you are back. Begin docking procedures now over." Armistad stated.
I looked around the room and saw a very nervous group of people.
"Docking procedures started Helios, waiting for confirmation on your end, over."
I saw Armistad hesitate...only for a moment...but the hesitation was there.
"Procedures begun at our end Ultor, over."
I now wish that Armistad has hesitated for longer, that he had run with his gut feeling. If he had we may never have known the horror that followed.
"Confirmed Helios, looking forward to a warm meal and a shower, over."
Armistad raised an eyebrow at that.
"Ultor...the warm meal and shower will have to wait; you are all to be quarantined until you are not considered a risk to the base over."
For the first time there was silence over the communications channel. We waited another minute until she responded and the voice was not happy.
"Is that an order sir? Over."
"Affirmative Captain, over."
"I take it there will be no tickertape parade on Earth either, over."
Armistad grimaced as he replied.
"No one even knows your home yet Ultor."
"Understood Helios, we will await your instructions when we dock!"
We watched, out breath in our throats as the 'Ultor' manoeuvred into position. The ship lined up carefully and then eased into the airlock. There was a suction of air and then the airlock sealed with a hiss.
A robotic feminine voice came over the loudspeaker.
"Airlock secure. Welcome home Ultor."
A half-hearted cheer went up from around the base; however there was no cheer from me or from the Colonel. I think that we had already decided that this wasn't a good thing. Now, in the midst of all the horror that has happened, I wish that the Ultor had suffered a catastrophic failure on the way home. I wish we had never let the astronauts into the Moon Base. I wish...
Quarantine is a bitch! Anyone that I know who has ever been in quarantine will tell you the same thing. There is nothing to do, the hours drag on, and it seems as though you have been cut off from the entire world.
I cannot imagine what it was like for Captain Price - she was in a room on her own. Chris was confirmed dead and had been put in a makeshift morgue. Josh and Dylan were pretty much vegetables; their vital signs so low they may as well have been dead.
To make matters worse Price couldn't remember what had happened on Mars. Her memory was a total blank from the time they entered the cave to when she was in space coming home.
Many of the N.A.S.A scientists figured that she had suffered PTSS (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) a typical mental health problem associated with traumatic events. It caused memory loss and in some cases a total blank on what had happened, to save the brain trauma from the memories. The scientists thought that Price must have been running on autopilot which would also explain her bad judgement call about coming home.
The Delta Force boys had a different theory - she had not been tough enough. Whispering soon made its way around the base that it had all been Prices fault. That having a woman in charge of the mission had been bad luck, and that this was the punishment for it.
I sighed in disappointment as I heard them whispering quietly in the mess hall. Even after all the years women had proved themselves in the military, there was still a large prejudice against them being in the field, especially if they were given command.