On the Plains of Tharsis... a tale of life & death on Mars
© 2011 Jeff Lynch
(For Ted Scribner - he and the other Tol Harndor people know why I guess)
Chapter One. Leaving The Blue Planet
would need the right aircraft of course. And it would have to be an
awesome one at that. If you were to fly over the largest volcano in the
universe that is known to man in a south easterly direction towards the
great Tharsis Plateau and the three other volcanoes there, you would
come across the landing place of the second group of humans to land on
and his people could sometimes see Mons Olympus so aptly named by
Schaperelli. But it was so big. So big, that it’s sheer scale did not
register properly in their eyes. Besides it was so often covered with
the swirling storms of red oxides, that it was regularly hidden from
the eyes of the second team.
Kandihar was experiencing one of the few idle moments he’d had in
aboard the Argo during the last nine days. He put down his copy of Les Miserables
and pondered for a while on the chilling tale of Jean Valjean. Because
he had read in French since he was a child, he read the great novel in
the best possible way.
was sitting at ease not so far from a console in the Argo but he did
not have to touch anything and there was nothing even remotely like
approaching a decision on this their historic journey in their ship to
the planet we call Mars. All the same his mind switched to the ever
present thought of the red planet.
was only half thinking about the similarities between the Earth’s
seasons and those on Mars. But there were indeed very few other
similarities in the two planets. Not the temperature variations, which
are quite extreme on the red planet. The average ground temperature
sits at something like -63 degrees Celsius and falls maybe three times
that in the Polar areas.
thought of the temperature variations during the day and nighttimes can
be extreme as well. The famous dust storms of red Mars are mainly
composed literally of rust, which does not at all suit machine or man
or beast either, could they get there. And he also thought about the
NASA ship ahead of them. That worried him some. What in the hell was
the Liberty up to?
had spent quite a few years putting his skills to use in composing an
acceptable Martian calendar. It was a hobby on the one hand but much
more again too. For Wolf had been an astronaut for fourteen years now.
work on the Martian Calendars had indeed brought him many accolades
across the reaches of the many cliques and foes of the academic world.
Not to mention the space agencies and the space societies on Earth.
as the spaceship which measured something like forty one metres in
length, silently scythed it’s way onwards through space the stars in
their normal and implacable way looked down on the six vulnerable
humans inside a small craft. There were four men and two women aboard
quite a few respected American scholars admitted that Wolf’s
constructed Martian calendar was a fine piece of work. Pointedly
though, it was not accepted by NASA at all. But that was certainly
their business was it not? Yes I guess it was, and it might just
be a lesson to others yet to come. The fact is that besides other
problems NASA’s construct on the Martian calendar locked into the major
problem. It was not a nice result.
was in fact one of the foremost astronauts of the ESA. Or perhaps I
should dispense with the acronym to say that this stands for the
European Space Agency. But you had already guessed that I reckon.
spacecraft proudly named the Argo was heading away from a position some
distance from outside the earth on it’s way to Mars in the July of 2033
AD. And I suppose that this crew just might have felt a little like
Argonauts in those ancient of days. Was Ulysses in their minds then
when they named the Argo? Of course it was, and we all know the
problems that guy had to suffer. Oh yes well I do remember that there
was a little joy on the way as well.
if Ulysses had some science to go with his man of action and ideas
would he have been likely to take on this mission? The ESA craft
had lifted off from French Guiana in the traditional near equator Earth
take off manner.
Euro crew called themselves ‘the second team’ among themselves in a
manner of both a certain truth and of irony. Publicly they would have
never uttered this phrase but it was apt enough in many ways indeed.
For the most famous spacecraft on earth was called the Liberty.
had been launched some four months ago without a hitch. The last the
European crew had heard of the NASA crew was a week or two after they
had blasted off on their mission from their starting point between the
moon and Earth.
came to them via a relay from NASA itself to the ESA headquarters in
Paris. Of course the ESA team had watched the American astronauts as
they had to perform at their last press conference some months before.
There was nothing in that but formula stuff and nobody in the European
team could say that they could have done it better.
Liberty had taken off from the moon from a base that had been in
position for just over seven five years. The NASA craft was a larger
one than the European one and had several other advantages as well. It
was both a faster and a far more comfortable craft. So what was the
flaw in it then? For it seemed certain to Wolf Kandahar
that something had gone wrong with the ship.
post take off report from the NASA ship was surly a normal and a bland
enough report. It gave out their distance approximately an eighth
of the way to the red planet.
It went on to say that apart from boredom and some small illnesses, all was well aboard the Liberty.
things changed aboard the NASA ship soon enough. It happened when the
Liberty was almost exactly five days out of Mars atmosphere. It was not
quite a pretty story either...
‘Christ Tom, are you absolutely certain about this?’
was Dr Terri Morgan looking aghast at her commander. Tom Glenn. He had
his back to the Liberty’s main console on the flight deck at the pointy
just stood up. The many hundreds of thousands of specks against the
dark of the deep space all around them flickered ever so subtly.
could see the stars over his right shoulder. But the stars had never
seemed so bleak to her at this very moment. She was not so sure of her
‘You are telling me that we are aboard the most sophisticated ship ever built on Earth and we are running out of oxygen?’
Glenn started to say something to her but stopped. Instead he pulled
out a faintly glowing computer sheet from a bank of manifest sheets to
the right of him. He handed her the sheet and she deftly slid a finger
over the top of the sheet. The computer sheet lit up further and
rapidly there was a list of some kind of data shown on it.
sat down abruptly and read the data with a deal of concentration. It
was needed too. As it was she took a deep breath while scanning
the sheet which kept pace with her speed of reading.
It was grim enough reading. Again she looked desperately at Tom Glenn. He asked her bluntly....
happened to this damn electrolysis system Terri? We expel the carbon
dioxide and retain the oxygen. What could be simpler than that?’
She looked at the Commander. He was not as bright as some perhaps but she would rather be with Tom Glenn above all others.
‘I know....your’e right there Terri.....the whole process is just so damn simple....but things have screwed up somehow.’
right you are Tom.....and the hell of the thing is Tom, that after you
called me I went down to look at the battery banks. There are signs of
the collapse already visible.’
The commander suddenly looked wan.....
told me that you seen them for yourself. I can’t add much more than to
say that...well the short of it is, that electrolysis function itself
is ok...it’s the batteries. The same batteries that they told us were
infinitely chargeable. As you already know they are.... err breaking up
Tom. As in a slow meltdown you could say. That’s the reason for this
poor data showing. And worst of Tom, all these battery banks had been
naturally extensively tested. They were found to be capable of lasting
for a hundred years.’
‘Except in space’ said the Commander a bit sharply....and then...
‘Ok we fix them then Terri. We simply patch em up for now...right?’
can do boss ah and that’s the whole point we haven’t got the tools or
the material to do it. It’s the whole bank of battery casings.....they
are kinda melting down on us I guess. Soon, just as the data shows,
they will cease to function....that is to provide us with oxygen.’
‘Why for God sake... why are they breaking down Terri?’
was of course a can-do-man as you would expect of a leader of this kind
of team. It was inconceivable to him and to her that there was not a
the answer is that I just don’t know. I haven’t told you
yet....but I’ve already been on to Houston for a short spell. I
mean as soon as I’d inspected the battery casings.
Houston is expecting you to come on any minute by the way Tom. Some of
the eggheads say that it might have been the reaction of the radiation
rays that we get everyday and night.
said that it might have caused an unforeseeable chemical reaction in
the battery banks. But I reckon they are only guessing. They don’t a
damn thing about it.’
‘There guessing? Guessing about what?’
was all the commander got out at first. Everybody from the lowliest
NASA mechanic, up to the top dogs at Houston knew about space
radiation. They had battled the problem for donkey’s years. The ship
was protected enough as far as the humans were concerned. Or so it
then it did always come down to the fact that they were always dealing
with a partly unknowable force. Tom Glenn was not so sure about the
radiation being the cause of their problem....but he had no other
answer to hand.
Then Glenn merely shook his head for some time. He regained his composure and added...
‘Do you mean to tell me that this ship and it’s crew are going to die because our car battery conked out on us Terri....?.’
Dr Morgan had no words to answer him for the while. And then she added....
‘Tom, the question is.... can we reach Mars at all?
this was a huge question, although there was not much point in landing
the Liberty if they could not breathe afterwards.
commander looked out towards the greater cosmos before answering her.
He swiveled away from those ever blinking stars and turned to her with
something approaching a wan smile on his face. He looked composed
enough, but Terri knew he was sorely agitated. They all knew each other
too well to hide things like that.
Terri it can be done quite easily, as you’ve just seen in the data....
there is air enough for just over four days. After that we have both
our spacesuits and the portable shelters which might last us up to a
month.... at a pinch. But we would lie there like zombies waiting to
on how much energy we expend in that period in the survival units. If
we need to, we can complete the final stages of the landing with our
suits on. If the ship’s supply has failed by the time we have
landed....which seems highly likely now, we still have the option of
the portable survival units....for a while.’
‘For a max of a month you said?’
‘Yep ...you got it Terri if the data is right; a month is the top figure available to us right enough.’
‘Tom.....we’ve nearly two fucking years to hang around on Mars waiting for our window to get home.’
swear word was out of place with Terri. All the rest of the crew swore
quite a lot but not her. Not normally that is.... so upset was the
Terri.....you put it succinctly as usual, that’s the bigger problem
alright. We cannot turn around and we will need a permanent oxygen
supply within a week or at outside two week. Now a vague idea comes to
me. The battery banks job is to put power through water. Am I right
‘Yes boss that is exactly what it does.’
‘Well if we need power we have a regular ship power source...’
Terry saw where he as going with this one.....
I see what you mean but the hydrolysis system is at the other end of
the ship from our lower output power boards. Even if we had the spare
cable and the knowhow ...which we haven’t, it would take 5 or six weeks
of wiring to get it done. And then the output would be just too low in
any case. I’m sorry Tom but no...it is a no brainer. We are going to
have to think harder on this one. Much harder.’
hadn’t directly informed ESA but it was clear to the Euro people that
Houston had altered both Liberty’s approach speed to Mars and the
ship’s whole course in general. The only conclusion that one could draw
from these factors was that the craft meant to land at a different
place than had been intended.
on Mars did this all mean thought Wolf? It was never a light decision
for Houston to do this. Not in life for true as God, so much bloody
preparation had already gone into setting up and plotting that original
landing site by NASA. It was the oddest thing truly it was. It made no
sense at to him all. He remembered almost all of their own immediate
pre blast off press conference clearly.
then the months had towed away some of the immediacy of these factors.
Love, a little hard work and a lot of boredom aboard the Argo saw to
that in the main.
would certainly be voted unanimously as the most popular member of the
Argo’s crew. He was polite, sympathetic and clearly the happiest chappy
on the ship without doubt. And while we are on the subject of Barbara
again, Wolf had found that Barbara was a really fine companion without
really trying all that hard to be so. Well not all that hard I mean.
She was of all things quite lonely. She did not really have the heart
to hide that certain fact from her commander to be Wolf Kandihar.
connection had happened quite early on and then the team’s shrinks came
to the conclusion that it might not be such a bad thing anyhow. So the
Brigette had been right all along in her observations even before the
Argo had been launched. Perhaps it is possible that Dr Barbara had set
her heart on the commander even before they had shipped aboard.
loneliness was not the loneliness of the flesh wearying space traveler
or a bored individual, but lonely as in ‘the heart is a lonely hunter.’
It was her age that was worrying Babara. That and the common enough
thought that as folks always say.... real love might pass her by.
truly was a problem for Barbara. This looking for Mr Right I mean. She
was most likely simply too fussy about so many things. Perhaps this
included men as well. Maybe she was not good at compromising or perhaps
her sense of smell was far too acute.. It can be as simple and
uncompromising as smell of men’s socks for instance. In this our normal
jungle of society she had for the most, stalked alone.
one to know one I guess, and Wolf surely saw all of this quickly
enough. Wolf knew that he might be taking a risk in his command if he
pushed their relationship much further towards the physical, and so he
resisted the call of his flesh for quite some time. But it was of
course only a matter of time.
everyone on the team recognized that they did not live in ‘normal times
or places.’ And that stuff we all call time even though we have not got
a clue about what it is. They all had a great deal of it on their hands
did they not?
their bodies had been feeling this aching stretches of time even more
than did their hands. It was some time before Wolf was apprised of the
Liberty’s supposed position. Jean Alois had told him. And then
suddenly the Argo had a special communiqué from his team leader. It was
a message which might translate something like this........
Start of message.... ‘Nothing
has altered from our original measurements or assessment of Liberty’s
changes of speed and course. It would seem most likely now that they
cannot and will not land at their original destination some place not
far from Syrtis Minor. By our own calculations here, they must be
thinking of landing somewhere a little closer to Mons Olympus than
we are talking about a huge range here. We can get no further than that
Wolf. No more can be said than that at the moment. Except to say, that
NASA in it’s entirety has been completely close lipped about all these
changes. They are definitely bloody-minded on the matter for sure. They
also have problems on their hands with the great storm. As you know
Commander Thomas John Glenn the Third is the Liberty’s mission leader
Wolf. My guess is that you may well have met him back here too’.
you do get a chance unlikely as it may be, I support that you attempt
to communicate with Glenn on the Liberty. As you approach Mars, it
might just be technically feasible. But this is somewhat unknown from
this far out. We haven’t exactly had a bucket load of cooperation from
NASA on anything at all for some months past so we can’t do much more
about it for the time being’.
I will definitely send on to you some band ranges for Liberty when she
is inside the Martian envelope. So unfortunately I have to tell you
that we have little more info than that. All Houston will tell us is
that there has been an in house decision to make some unspecified
alterations. They won’t tell us if they are talking about speed or
course here. Most of what we do know we have deduced for ourselves.’
as I have already told you, there’s no bloody help whatsoever from NASA
still. Well they know that we know that much already. Big deal though
eh. They do not even mention the words course, or landing sites or if
every body on that craft is alive and well. Not one bit of it Wolf.
They seem determined to keep what they are up to a very tight secret
indeed. It is more than curious and we are not at all pleased about the
situation. We are sending in some of our darker people to Houston
clandestinely find out anything more can be known. ....end of message’.
fact, Wolf Kandihar surely did know the Liberty’s commander. He had met
Tom at a seminar held in Chicago some years ago. The seminar was not
one his ‘day job’ efforts but was concerned with Martian chronology and
went even further into the mathematical measurements known to man. The
measurements of a planet whose elliptical path was far wider around the
sun than Earths own.
it had been a ‘fun run’ for Wolf in the windy city. Tom and he had been
a fair bit younger then of course but they had got on very well just
the same. Tom was a family man through and through. He was too, an
admirable and a very brave man and no fool by a long chalk, whatever
Barbara might say about him.
was a fine pilot and navigator. And he was a lot of fun to be with to
boot and the plain fact of the matter was that Wolf purely and simply
liked him. He liked him as a fellow pilot and also as a man. All of
that only drove him further to think that something was wrong with
Tom’s mission. Nothing quite added up.
receiving Jean Alois pointedly succinct message, he was wondering
whether it was possible for him to get a message out to Tom in the
Liberty. Quo Vadis, he might ask the man for instance. Wolf pondered
what to do about the NASA team for a while. Then the next day, he asked
Jean Alois to send what would be in effect a personal message to Tom
Glenn. Finally after some hesitation, Jean asked Wolf to relay a
message to him and to wait and see what might be achieved.
penned the message, which in essence asked the commander was there
anything they could do to assist them either now or in the future.
Indirectly his message asked Commander Glenn if they had a problem.
Wolf waited three days and the blandest message was returned to him via
Houston and his own ESA headquarters.
was merely a hello note reply note. It was a mere formality really. The
note refrained from stating either the exact position of the Liberty or
any conditions pertaining to their ship whatsoever. It was not a
typical Tom Glenn reply though. Not on your sweet Nelly thought Wolf.
politeness was noted in the thanks to him about the Liberty’s progress.
Mars was doable he told Wolf. Everything was all go with them there
They were honing in on the Red Planet. There were also nada problems
aboard the ship.... wasn’t that fine for them
went on to say that they were only days away from landing now and we do
not, repeat, we do not a single problem here. And no reasons were given
for their sudden corrections to their previous path and no indications
were given that anything but joy surrounded them all.
‘Hope you are doing as well too, from Tom Glenn here as we close in on Mars.’
And in closing Glenn said ... ‘Oh and by the way happy birthday Wolf.’
commander had got something right then but then why had he bothered at
all? Ah thought Wolf, I send him serious questions and he sends me back
many happy returns of the day. It was indeed August 14, 2033 and it
would be well over another three and a half months before the Argo
could think of sending down it’s lander on the surface of the red
the NASA broke the news that the Liberty had safely landed. But there
were none of the expected triumphal pictures of the event. The two
weeks after Wolf had exchanged messages with the Liberty’s commander,
there seemed to exist a kind of news blackout coming out of Houston
about what Liberty was or was not up to as it approached Mars.
just to the commander and the crew of the Argo but throughout the known
world. For the most stock photos became the common stock of trade. This
was to continue for weeks after their landing. For all of a sudden, the
world was jolted when NASA told us all the enormous news that Liberty
had indeed landed first men born on earth on the surface of Mars. They
had landed at last.
you can imagine it caught most human’s breath for a second or two. Man
was on Mars. TV sets and Newspaper banners ran riot with copious
amounts of stock photographs once again. There were a couple of
interior shots that looked authentic but no outside shots of Mars were
these stock photographs, then when new Mars was at the feet of these
most famous and intrepid men and women? But alas said Houston there
were no pictures to go with that news and it was once again most
last images that would be provided by Houston for some weeks were of
the happy crew swimming in sight of a wobbly aimed camera in one of the
Liberty cabins. They were all fine and highly social pictures of six
vital and obviously happy if over concentrated humans. Most probably
these photos were taken in the exercise room, which was adjacent to the
liberty’s living quarters.
was all clean fun and obviously it was all deemed to be appropriate by
NASA officials. Then there were no pictures coming in and a few
well-placed journalists starting asking questions. They also trotted
out a clean cut and a most polite Houston spokesperson. He spoke his
piece to the world in general. But still there came no visuals of the
here at Houston are so very sorry about the fact of the lack of current
visuals here There have been a couple of technical glitches in this
matter here folks. And in fact we are just a tiny bit embarrassed about
the whole matter but it will soon be corrected. Our digital camera
system has temporarily broken down....just be patient with us for a
seemed that the NASA landing had been entirely successful though. NASA
put it out that every one of our crew is well and all goes to plan
apart from the camera shots that we were hoping to bring to you.
of the crew of the Liberty is now busy at setting up the sites where
they will be living for the next two years. Commander Thomas John Glenn
the Third has received the best wishes of nearly all the leaders of
countries the wide world over. It is indeed a time to remember. We will
adjust things back to normal very soon. We will bring you all fine
pictures very soon when the cameras come good. You all know how much we
want this event to go well.’
‘Something stinks here. Something about this here does not smell well at all.’
he thought that he was only thinking this but this time Wolf had spoken
the words outright and Barbara looked up at him with some concern in
her attractive face. Barbara knew full well by now that Wolf was quite
a hard man to upset. Over nearly eighteen months of intimacy, she felt
rather than heard the commander’s concern. Therefore she reasoned,
something was probably indeed rotten in the state of current Martian
was inevitable that Wolf should literally turn towards Barbara at the
moment he was aware that she had heard him comment on Tom Glenn’s
messages. He was aware of that as well. It was almost inevitable that
he should also ask her advice at that moment.
‘What should I do Babs? Should I tell the rest of the crew of my suspicions and what if anything is to be done?’
leant towards Wolf a little knocking off a plastic covered file from a
securing clip as she did so. The file floated off in the craft’s
atmosphere. She secured the file again before she continued speaking.
you and I do not know very much at all in fact. You suspect something
is amiss I know but that’s about all there is commander. But you must
consider that our own Alois back home knows as much as you do and maybe
a lot more too Wolf. We can almost safely bet tha. You know yourself
that they often feed us bullshit up here. NASA does the same for in
their lights, they want us to be as content as we can be.’
want to do the worrying for us and leave us morons to do their monkey
work for them. And that’s all there is to it Wolf. But I honestly do
not think that you have enough straight info to hand to worry the rest
of us aboard here either. Let’s just wait and see for a little longer
Barbara suddenly looked directly at Wolf her head to one side.
‘Wolf, how much do you know about modern photography. I mean about digital cameras and such?’
Wolf’s mind was already up to speed with her line of reasoning.
think I know well enough what your’e getting at Babs. I think that you
are about to about to tell me that digital cameras hardly ever
breakdown or fail these days. You are going to say that given some
battery power, that there is almost SFA that can go wrong with this
type of junk eh?’
paused for effect, which was not really her style in the ordinary run
of things. She smiled rather wanly at him, looking more beautiful than
on Wolf you’re spot on. I was going to say exactly all of that and
more. But I tell you what Wolf. I do hope that Tom Glenn is brighter
than I think he is. He might have fed us something a little murkier
here mate. It was just too soapy for my liking Wolf.’ But having said
all that, I don’t think we have enough to go on to panic anybody. ‘
could be the worst Wolf? That the Liberty would be finished? I don’t
know but we have our own preservation to worry about. What can we do
for the Americans if they were in strife? Absolutely nothing Wolf and
that’s the sour truth....nothing.’
was the commander’s turn to nod his head. For Wolf knew exactly what
Barbara meant by that too. Most of the damn message from Tom Glenn was
just far too Mary Poppins for him as well. He laughed all of a sudden.
It rang out clearly in the enclosed space. Then he said without any
hint of irony.
know what Babs? If you won’t show your crew against the local landscape
of Mars, there might just be one and one possible reason why you do not
wish to show it. You do not want folks to know precisely where you are.’
Barbara nodded her head slowly and she waited, as she knew that there was more to come.
Chicago I asked Tom Glenn if he would like to play a game of chess with
me. Tom looked at me a tiny bit shyly as I said it too. He continued on
to tell me that didn’t know how to play the bloody game at all.’ I seem
to sense a game is on here Babs, but I do not bloody well know what
their game it is at all.’
was agreement among the six astronauts aboard the craft, that the
Liberty was by a long chalk the best craft that had ever broached
space. Hey and it was just a pretty picnic up there folks. But the
truth was much simpler. There was already a possible known problem
aboard the Liberty only some five or six weeks into their mission.
The NASA reports now can be read and it was a little replay of ‘Houston we have a problem.’
They had done readings on their oxygen recycling monitors seven times
and they couldn’t really trust their eyes in what they saw. They just
could not believe their eyes when they read their meters for the first
and then the second time.
time they checked their instruments there seemed to appear a reading,
which while it was in no way dangerous to them, was not good for one
moment. Probably the worst thing was that they didn’t understand the
reason why the lower output oxygen readings were showing at all.
the Liberty Houston was in contact with Tom Glenn. The Houston
controller waited patiently for the latest data on the oxygen supplies
to come in. Seemingly, Houston was wondering if a turn around for the
ship was possible. This idea had been discussed a hundred times during
training. An emergency turn around. That only led to another and bigger
apart from the fitting in to a suitable window.....almost unavailable
unless they acted in the next few hours; the turn around at this
particular stage was either extremely hazardous; near impossible re.
For the oxygen supply ruled it out by over seven months. Over eight
months of travel would not fit into perhaps two months supply of air.
copy that Houston. We counted out the possibility of a turn around a
while ago. I never took it seriously really though.....even if we
nailed the window real neat we would not last past two months
tops....that’s our figure right now. Two months ok?’
He spoke the words again....slowly and deliberately so there could be no misunderstandings. He said.......
‘Two damn months Houston.....we need another option here. And we need it pretty damn quick smart.’
Static was growing more loudly in Tom’s ear with every passing minute now.
‘Wher’es the Argo in relation to us now.....?”
The’re about three months behind you Tom.....on much the same course as you. They seem to be trouble free right now.’
Have you got any options for us then..... or are we to run on prayers for the most here?
thought of one possible option Tom....just give us another day working
on it and we’ll get back to you with it. It will not be popular back
here but it will keep you running. Are you all set for a landing Tom?
are all go for that..... no problems there at all....it’s just a tiny
matter of being able to breath that worries me. It probably worries the
others a bit too.’
loud crackling interrupts their conversation and then all
communications with Earth became seriously dodgy. They were getting too
close to the red planet by now. This meant among other things, that
there was a great deal of static coming in to the Liberty. This went on
for some hours and then finally the whole contact with Earth was kaput.
it stayed that way for twenty four hours. This was now to become an
endemic problem which was to last for the duration of their stay. It
complicated a lot of things....particularly for an already nervous Tom
He turned to Perry Crosswhite, his second in command. Perry had listened to every word of the conversation.
‘Well that’s it then....wer’e on our own again for a while Perry..... ...got any ideas pal?’
that any hint of trouble got to either ESA or the crew of the Argo.
They really were only privy to whatever the popular press was fed in
any case. No doubt bad news would have been blocked by Houston whatever
the circumstances. In addition, all of the astronauts were being
blocked out in most of the day to day events among their families and
was done with only a few and rare exceptions to the rule. But this was
a tried and true article of faith by now among all space agencies. The
less the astronauts knew about what was happening in their home zones
and hearths the better they felt and performed. The policy was cruel
enough ok, but nearly all the shrinks thought that this was kinder to
them in the end
was a ditto for the European ship the Argo too. For psychologists
employed by the space agencies the world over always thought that they
knew best about their delicate creatures given the job of operating the
mind that these experts had never stepped aboard a rocket full of fuel
which was about to stand you on end with a half kilometer tail of fire
to lift you up into that wild black yonder up there. You might say that
it was simply something of an ‘accepted truth’ of the space industry at
the manned Mars exploration team from Houston town was by far the most
famous group of humans on earth for quite a while. The good ole US of A
had done it again. The six humans of the Liberty’s team, four men and
two women were greeted with worldwide attention and in part much
sloppy and doting articles were written about their lives their
spotless love lives and their cute dogs at home. Depending on what
sides of politics the papers and TV stations were on, there was much
acclaim or great blame given to them as aggressive opportunists and
foolish colonists from another and spent age. The USA team was either a
group of brave explorers, or foolish and greedy colonists.
this crew of the Argo being merely the second team to have a crack at
Mars naturally enough only received a smaller notoriety. And if they
succeeded in dong the same thing as the Liberty they would indeed be
merely the second group to do achieve this mammoth feat.
you remember the names of the climbing team that followed Sir Edmund
Hillary and Sherpa Tensing in conquering Mount Everest’s peak? They
were second in many different ways too. All the fractured and hyped up
ballyhoo and all of the Hollywood style attention of the planet had
been directed at the six humans from Houston who were to be the first
to land on Mars.
had briefly made headlines with a quote of his, which had a distinct
Mallory ring to it. The famous climber who perished on the slopes of
Mount Everest in 1923 had replied to the question of why indeed would
you want to climb Everest at all, by saying ‘because it is there.’
Kandihar was asked a similar question at a press conference in Berne.
When asked why they ventured to do precisely what they did do he said.
He said this quite succinctly but with the light of pride in his voice
‘Folks we do this because we are explorers. And that’s what we do...explore.’
‘that’s what we do’ tale rang out in a myriad of headlines the world
over. Later on Barbara Nunns-Lynch had insisted that this ringing
phrase be used as the first ESA Mars expedition team’s logo should
include ‘that’s what we do.’ So all of the team wore a badge with those
words emblazoned on them. Boom, boom folks and it does pay to advertise
and many times at that. But very soon, stating in the USA but spreading
to most of the Eu the monkey trial
ESA team was by and large unknown except to specialists and the agency
and their expanded family of astronauts in general. Wolf was better
known merely because he was the second team’s leader. But it must be
admitted that it was the fact that he was a Muslim was the thing which
made him better known throughout the wider world. He was a very liberal
one but he was an Afghani and a Muslim nevertheless. So given the state
of world politics Wolf was subjected to a notoriety that wouldn’t have
been there if he was a middle of the road European astronaut-cum
scientist at large.
Kandihar was not even his real name either. His real name was too much
of a mouthful for most folks to use, and he chose a pseudonym even
before he had decided to attempt a doctorate at MIT. He had graduated
from the Sorbonne with the finest of liberal degrees handed to any non
journey to Massachusetts to switch to a in the corridors of power in
the United States of America were already watching this young man. The
MIT had therefore been handed to Wolf on a platter and he eagerly
grabbed the ring on the way around.
was perforce aligned politically with the French. You did not get very
far in European space projects if you were not. You do not get very far
in any agency if you are not something of a political animal I would
was a time back only just a little more than twenty years ago when the
European Space interests would have gladly joined with NASA for a joint
shot at the red planet. But sadly those days were gone at least for the
present. China has landed a man or three on the moon some years ago and
space tourists were growing apace thanks mainly to one Sir Richard
Branson from the UK.
investigated man’s ability to work, sleep and play under various ‘sols’
and time shifts in general. Just as many people have a lot of trouble
in the matter of jet lag astronauts were often totally or partially
affected by time differences. Sometimes these factors could potentially
make or break a project too.
NASA and the smaller but competitive ESA took the subject very
seriously and it was not merely an accident of French politics that
Wolf had been lured away from the circle of Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and the USA in general. Then he was propelled in to the even
tighter arms of the European Space Agency and into the capable if
devious arms of Bonsoir de Lorraine.
Kandihar had been born in that very same place as his surname. That is
to say in the city of Kandihar in southern Afghanistan. He was now 42
years of age and carried himself very well too thank you. And he did
not look too bad either. He was greying yes and maybe his reflexes had
slowed a little too but he always had that natural poise that came from
being used to be being a leader. He had the tiniest of paunches, and
normally he was polite and exceptionally well mannered in a kind of
semi patrician style.
that it was his scholarly manner that made him seem that way. It was
not a manner born of wealth, or a past style of life in any case. In
fact if anything, the opposite was nearer to the truth. He had been
poor but also he’d been both talented and he’d been lucky.
Chapter Four. So the twig is bent
a small child in Kandihar, the third or fourth Afghani war (depending
on your count) was still stupidly still madly raging. It would seem to
be that when extremists are in the ascendancy, no moderate man or woman
can safely sue for peace. And so Wolf lived in a city beset by poverty,
suspicion and there was a certain madness for life in a place a
dangerous as Kandihar. For talking about certainties, there was
certainly enough of death to go around in this town.
the end Wolf had put his head down and just studied hard and then he
had met a Frenchman, a worker for a United Nations team. That had been
Wolf’s big breakout event. At age seventeen he found himself studying
at the Sorbonne in France.
then strange to say, he was also a man who was not without highly
developed sensibilities. Apart from reading fine literature, he fancied
painting quite a lot. He was certainly not an art expert exactly, but
he had often been in a lot of Europe’s finest Galleries.
equally admired Marc Chagall and Watteau and Peter Paul Rubens. And it
was obvious to any person who spoke to him on the subject that he did
truly revere fine painting of many types and schools. And it’s a
natural fact that Wolf was also fond of the writings of St Augustine.
And that’s not all that bad going for a guy that was brought up a
for his faults, some women might give you better examples than I can
cite. He was definitely a restless man at times and ipso facto he was
never a natural settler or a homemaker. He was also sometimes inclined
to attempt too much and this could occasionally leave some gaps.
was a little alien for him to mow a lawn or cut a hedge at home. He did
spend a great deal of time studying and writing and this could turn him
into a slightly remote man at times. It went with the territory in some
ways I suppose. He had married quite a few years ago but the marriage
collapsed and he always would admit to all and sundry that the break up
was mainly his fault... if it was fault that anybody was looking for.
‘For you know and I know that love never runs on time.’
One child called Arthur had come from that union. And as you would most
likely have guessed outright, the son lived with his mother in Boston.
It’s the way that these things pan out mostly.
academic background was just one of the reasons that he was now leading
this crew of six European astronauts in their ship. Just a little more
than a year ago he had been called into the building at 8-20 Rue
Mario-Nikis, Paris, Cedex 15, France. This was the headquarters of the
European Space Agency. Andre or ‘Bonsoir’ de Lorraine the ex astronaut
and boss of all of ESA’s manned space operations had called him in.
Almost no sooner than he had walked in the door than de Lorraine said
to him in his booming voice. ‘Well you are finally about to be off to
Mars you old bastard.’
veteran tossed a thick file at him across the room. He had earned the
name ‘Bonsoir’ when he risked his life as a young man to save himself
and all of his crew aboard his spacecraft. He had disobeyed his
controllers and did the most dangerous out-of-ship repairs ever
attempted during flight. He had simply wished them bonsoir as he closed
the hatch to go outside the craft.
course it had been a desperate gamble that had come off. ‘Well you got
the bloody Argo you lucky old sod and you had damn well better look
after the billions of Euros invested in her too do you hear me
Wolf.’ Andre de Lorraine meant the days when the Ariane rocket
was the ESA’s prime rocket for getting their materiel into orbit.
Please try to remember Wolfie the Argo is bloody well a few times
better than those clunkers of the old Ariane days you know’.
de Lorraine had been Wolf’s mentor for many a long year now. Andre de
Lorraine had hard earned his formidable reputation in almost a dozen
space operations in some fifteen years of stunning action and
leadership. Like Brigette aboard the Argo, de Lorraine had once been an
ace fighter pilot who was still kind of yearning for a war or two. He
was not an easy man.
had seen combat too and killed men in the air in his time. And had
lied, cheated and literally bribed folks to get into action at the
time. He had crossed over to drive a mean old desk too. The legendary
old man was now very reluctantly coming near to retiring age.
went on to talk about some of the technical details that Wolf would
need to know and then they repaired to their favourite café in a narrow
lane off the Champs Elysee. They had always enjoyed a relaxed
relationship and Bonsoir worked better with a little alcohol aboard.
and indeed this whole relationship was indeed a form of cronyism but in
truth it was born out of a long trust and dear friendship. Bonsoir de
Lorraine and Wolf had once been shipmates. But it went even further
than that for this man regarded Wolf much as he would a son. The son in
fact, that he did not have himself in real life
would always remember one day in late July when he was twenty two years
of age. He was in a study room of the Sefton library at MIT, when he
came across an article in ‘The New York Times,’ headed ‘Puff, and a
definite proof of the existence of water on Mars.’ It was report
written by one Michael Chang out of Tucson, which told of the recent
work of professor Boynton at the University of Arizona. The professor
was commenting on samples of soils taken from Mars by NASA’s ‘Phoenix’
lander in 2008. The puff of smoke, said the good professor, came from
the soil of Mars when it was heated to a temperature of zero degrees.
according to Chang’s version was proof positive of the presence of
water on Mars. The moment would always stay with the commander whether
or no the report had been quite accurate or not. It spurred Wolf on to
take a direct interest in things to do with our solar system’s planets
and Mars in particular.
had many shades of skills then, besides the few normal kinds of
weaknesses allotted to all men. Apart from the fact of his brilliance
on the subject of time and of man’s peculiar weaknesses to the
difference in the length of the ‘sols’ on the fourth planet he was a
dogged and highly pragmatic leader.
other countries have quite major Space Agencies including China, India
and Japan. Virgin’s English boss Richard Branson had also spectacularly
added to that too. He had advertised for willing multi millionaires
across the world. But he had also held worldwide raffles for additional
positions in space jaunts. All these amateur events were proving highly
popular the world over.
was glad that he belonged to the team that had chosen ‘the direct
scheme’ to set up the Mar’s trip. This did not sound so direct either
for it required the sending of an unmanned craft to land well ahead of
the humans on the surface of Mars. In this case they called the
unmanned craft the Ithica. Yes it was kind of home base true enough.
this craft called the Ithica was to sit on Mars once it had landed. It
was the result of a long history of In-Situ Resourse Utilization
(ISRU.) Both NASA and the ESA had been researching resources to enable
them manufacture enough fuel from local Martian material to get them
course the main object was to lighten the load needed to get the craft
to Mars in the first place. The main process of a rocket propellant
production may be expressed as a Sabatier reaction. This idea called
for a motherlode craft’ to be sent ahead of the ESA’s manned space
craft the Argo. It would be the production craft in situ on the planet.
was watching Francois Diderot looking at instruments while he was also
scanning a set of mathematical tables, which he had opened up and
placed beside him. Sometimes Francois would slide through mid air to
another bank of machines. Sometimes he would do this upside down, just
for fun. After all, it all helped to pass the time didn’t it?
was little practical use in the Argo’s mechanical engineer in tackling
this task at all. For of course the ship’s main computer saw to the
matter hourly and even by the second in fact. And Francois was merely
doing a job. He was assisting Wolf to manually double check their
course. He was simply tracking the Argo as it pointed towards away to
Mars. His main job though was as the ship’s engineer.
was a relaxed enough man when he was off duty, but like nearly all
mechanical engineers with a fair bit of space duty under their belts he
was likely to be a grizzly bear until the problem at hand job was as an
engineer. He fixed things that go bump in the night or the day. For one
thing, he was highly resourceful in working out replacements for
anything that might go bump in the night.
would hardly eat or sleep until the problem was fixed. It was not that
he tried to impress you, he was just a little bit like those Scottish
engineers you used to read about in those old World War Two yarns that
some of read. He just cannot help himself when there is a mechanical
problem. It comes first, second and last with the guy.
ship was still building up speed and it would continue to do so for
well over two more months. They were some eighteen Earth Sols away from
their initial firing position between the moon and good old home. In
reality there was no hurry to do anything much right at this time. Time
was of the essence really. I mean in the reverse sense that in this
phase of the journey only there matter of finding a good book when you
were off watch.
would certainly take patience, a respect for each other’s foibles and
sexual toleration to keep harmony among six highly charged and mostly
hetrosexual humans. Yes it was going to be a long journey and time was
going to be a little bit like their enemy for quite some months to come
yet. The one-way trip to the surface of Mars was expected to take the
best part of eighteen months.
intended to stay on Mars for almost two years and then of course there
was the same fourteen months journey back to the blue planet.
They were all possibly too bright, too intense and also too ambitious
to be the ideal types to coop up together for this length of time. But
they had all been trained very well. They had all been there and done
that before to a greater or lesser extent. Wolf had the most space time
on his sheet and that was followed in numbers of flights by the former
main pilot was in fact also French and she was a woman. She held
qualifications from one of the best Polytechic University’s in all of
France. Her name was Brigette Evannes and like all most of her fellow
male ace pilot-jocks she was definitely a bit of a daredevil in the old
school of trained in jet fighters.
nobody was ever fooled about the extent of this lady’s knowledge on
matters to do with navigation in space. People usually deferred to her
in this mathematically based field for they had a lot of experience of
seeing her being right in her judgment.
aboard the Argo could match Brigette at the game of chess either. They
were soon to handicap her in this game by taking away one of her pawns.
This might even things a little but you would still not bet against her
anyway. This lady was most intuitive, attractive, cool, and possessed
of a fine memory and a most competitive player of the game of all
games. And in some ways to Brigette, life was a game too.
who was quite unattached to any male back on earth, was best described
as a ‘stunningly attractive and available woman’. She had quite frankly
volunteered to the shrinks and boffins to be the swinger off the group
if it was necessary. As she admitted herself, she had possibly
discovered at an early age that life was short event. She normally
sought only after lust’s satisfactions; such as they may be and let
love lay low.
I said she was a most attractive woman and game as Ned Kelly as
Aussie’s would say. Francois called her BB, and none of the others had
got it for a while. Francois was a bit of a film buff and he was
thinking about the French film star Brigette Bardot. For it’s true said
another wit that she was a very talented cube of sugar in a ‘D’ cup.
indeed there was little that was cubistic about her shapely body. The
shrinks had indeed encouraged and even slightly pressured Bridgette in
this act of ‘volunteering’ as they could see some advantages in it for
the harmony of the group. For the ‘social contract’ shall we.
was basically unattached and as he was considered by the shrinks as a
kind of abnormally good looking and man who was something like your
ordinary horny Frenchman. They believed that it was possible he might
seek some solace with Brigette. This was not rocket science dear reader
and so it was proved in time.
Gerhardt was the German representative who hailed from Bavaria. He was
a devoted homosexual who happened to be in a long term relationship
back home. He was deeply in love with his partner. And he was a fitness
fanatic and a very experienced geologist. It was probably in that order
that he saw himself too. He was also a fine astronaut. He was tough and
very courageous and it was no accident that nobody in his class during
astronaut training had ever stood more rigours or passed harder tests
than had Helmut Gerhardht.
was therefore kind of regarded as a neutral figure by the psychologists
in a sexual sense. There were no competitors for his affections and
Helmut ‘s background and every single one of his tests showed him to be
both faithful to his Bavarian lover back home and a patient, careful
man in everything that he did. He was not a man they would tell you, to
be either frivolous or god help us, to be
Barbara Nunns-Lynch was both a medical doctor as well as holding a
biology based doctorate from Leeds University. Yes she was an
Englishwoman with some amount of that famous reserve and possessing
some of that sing-in-the-choir attitude towards life, love and death.
She was a biologist as well as a medical doctor. In the biology field
she specialized in microbiology. She therefore handled two major roles
aboard the Argo. Just as Francois Diderot was putting his navigation
charts away, Barbara attracted his attention and pointed upwards
through a hatchway over their heads.
was revolving around in that weightless way as she did this. Dr Barbara
was the chief scientific ‘nut’ amongst the Argo’s crew. Although having
said that, all the other five crewmembers were all trained in one or
more scientific aspects. Straight out hot seat pilot jocks need not
apply here and that’s for sure.
then there was the Italian. His name was Nando Parucci. Frankly, he was
in quite an unsatisfactory marriage. His wife didn’t love him and his
own love for her was something of a dying ember as well. He had told
the experts quite openly, that he was considering quitting the union.
Going off to Mars had not helped all that much of course and he thought
quite frankly, that the trip would put paid to any chance that they
might have ever had.
had come to being an astronaut through designing aircraft. Jet fighters
were his dire interest in fact. Italy had a long and proud history in
aviation design and the country had been a top manufacturer of them for
many a year. As a chief designer he had been in the habit of meeting
test pilots a lot. He would sometimes accompany them up into the wild
blue to see his work and that of his fellow workers in Milan at first
all I am saying you might be mistaken about the general tenor of the
feeling of being on the Argo on this special voyage. And there were
other strokes painted much wider with this special team of people too.
Music was the master onboard the Argo, we might truly say. It was a
real saviour in fact. And indeed on their worst nights it was something
completely special for most of these very special humans aboard this
was completely besotted by both Bach and Mozart. Dr Barbara tended to
linger more dangerously in the shades of Mahler and Sibelius at this
time. Francois sometimes took their breath away with what in olden days
used to be called West Coast Jazz. It was Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck
and Miles Davis for him. Charlie Parker had a massive home in his
beating heart as well. And in those nights when Francois was feeling a
wee bit milder, Oscar Peterson would cool the man down.
slightly more recent days but still in day of yore, he did some times
play Herbie Hancock and then he would just gross out with heaps of The
Rolling Stones But indeed they all listened to each others
stuff....that was the rule. But in the end the rule was never
needed...it just happened..
tastes were lighter than both Dr Barbaras’s and Wolf’s tastes. She was
into Techno Jazz, the olden days Indie stuff of all shades, and bless
the girl she also was very fond of dancing to Francois Diderot’s
occasionally beloved Rolling Stones. To top it all she was into the
‘new new’ a form of music which was quite beyond the pale for any of
would probably not come as a surprise to you to hear that Brigette had
danced for the whole crew topless after they had all consumed more than
a few drinks one fine evening. She was at her best when dancing to ‘You
Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ As you might imagine, her turn brought
the house down and she was ribbed for months on end after the event.
But when all was said and done Mozart reigned supreme as always.
it may also not surprise you to hear that Nando could talk to Brigette
literally for hours on the subject of aircraft design without either of
them becoming bored on the subject. Nando also had a lifelong interest
in gardening. Although at first glance this may look a little strange
for an aeronautical engineer, he was just like many Italians, in that
he loved to grow his own vegetables. He just loved getting his hands
was another subject, which got him going in that volatile arm waving
Italian style. So it was a natural progression of things that one of
his many jobs aboard the Argo was to take special care of their dwarf
wheat crop. Special care, because their very lives depended on their
Argo also carried thousands of the oxygen producing dwarf wheat plants,
which were the backbone of their air recycling program aboard the Argo.
It was somewhat of a controversial plan simply because some experts
thought it to damn simple and idea. These folks would not trust Roger
of Ockam’s principle at all. Namely if you have two alternative’s to
consider, then likely the simplest one is the better choice. But then
this argument was designed to help us believe in the existence of God
and no more than that.
consequence then the spaceship Argo was far lighter than the NASA craft
and of course burnt far less fuel. They would arrive to find by a life
support system already in place, assuming that they landed almost
adjacent to the first craft. This was of course a potential hazard for
them. If they could not land say within a thousand kilometers or less
from the Ithica they would have various problems at hand to cope with.
simply put, once they had landed on Mars they needed fairly quick
access to the Ithica. And if they could get to it at all, they might
have to wait for the next team from Earth to come to them while they
were on short commons. This would not be a pretty situation to
contemplate for very long. But it was also a breakthrough system and
had another advantage. For when the Argo’s crew lifted off to finally
lifted off from Mars for home, this static support craft simply stayed
in place to serve as a support for any future groups to come.
landing site on the plains of Tharsis was right beside the Ithica. And
it was here that they would catch up with the already landed Ithica.
This included far bigger fields of the dwarf wheat and the oxygen it
the horizon is Mons Olympus. It spreads itself over about an area of
600 kilometres and stands about 27 kilometres high, which makes it
three times the height of our own Mount Everest.
to Wolf it was fine up to a point to trust computers to a form of
sideral navigation similar to those systems which ancient Polynesians
had steered their canoes across the southern western regions of the
South Pacific. But it was clearly difficult he clamed to miss a site
just west on Mons Olympus. I think that the rather bright lad had a
point too. It was fairly hard for a competent pilot to miss. But for
there own sweet reasons, NASA had not chosen the ‘send
ahead’ any such fuel making systems according to the ‘direct Mars’
I told you before, in another time they might well have gone there
together as a joint venture but at least some of the systems were
agreed as being the most viable ones. So obviously in a few cases, both
the two space groups employed very similar technologies. Both of the
crafts were also made from the same basic materials give or take a few
items and their navigation and propulsion systems were much the same as
well. But the air supply systems were quite dissimilar.
there were also breakthrough materials, which were being used for the
first time on long space voyages. And they were quite dramatic
inventions at that. Most of the current scientists thought that a new
material based on a much improved poly carbon technology was a
necessary component of a safe space ship. Therefore both the Liberty
and the Argo used the same basic building materials for the vital
safety of the outer hulls of their ships.
skins were especially safe when backed up by the now available nanotube
technology. This had been around for a long time by now. But it was a
subsequent discovery by a chemical engineer way back sometime before
the year 2008 that made the technique so valuable. His name was
Jonathan Dordick at the Rensselaer Polytechnique Institute.
nanotube technology had slowly been coming along for twenty years or so
now. And by the year 2030 AD, it had the tested capability of instantly
patching up holes, which could potentially be made by tiny space
particles colliding with the craft. If a spacecraft is punctured in
outer space the crew will be instantly pulped to death.
had come up with the radical idea of stuffing lightweight proteins
among the nanotubing structures. In the case of sudden catastrophe of
collision and the structure of any part of the outer skin beginning to
break down, the proteins caused the material of the nano tubing to
‘come to life’ and repair itself in an instant.
surely does sound like science fiction I know. And it does sound just
too good to be true. But true enough it all was. It worked and it was
well proven by this time to have worked under e many kinds of
conditions. All of this repair work happens in a flash and thus
protects the crew from sudden death while the craft is in flight.
the ESA and NASA crafts employed these basic new nano tube materials
and were very happy with them. All the scientists and most of the more
grizzled astronauts agreed that the ‘repair work’ of the ‘Dordick
protein principle,’ looked and worked just fine.
though NASA had first tried out the ‘crane assist’ method of landing on
one of their latest Moon landings, they had not persisted with it for
their expedition to Mars. The ship they had chosen was a large one and
they had perfected a whole craft landing technique for this craft. That
is to say, they would land in one effort and the complete spacecraft
would touch down on the surface.
would go down solo or go down swinging in it’s Mars landing. But apart
from the ‘direct’ system of the prior landing on Mars of the
‘permanent’ backup craft there was another important distinction
between operating systems of the Argo and the Liberty.
European Space Agency after much soul searching and trial had finally
opted for the cruder type of system where dwarf wheat plants were set
to grow in circled racks lining the storage areas aft of the ship. The
dwarf wheat growing system did have a temporary backup program should
it somehow fail, but ideally this required the assistance of the
permanent fuel making backup craft which was already in place on Mar’s
surface not so far from the huge shadow of the 600 kilometre wide
volcano called Mons Olympus.
you are an Australian, perhaps you might imagine a mountain stretching
from Melbourne in Victoria almost to the town of Dubbo in New South
Wales. Maybe it would be just a little more than half the distance
between Washington DC, and New York. If you can imagine that at
all, then perhaps you can get a handle on the diameter of Mons Olympus.
to say to you that no longer manned voyages had ever been made in the
history of space exploration than then these current two exploration
jaunts in progress. Only rarely too had unmanned ships gone further
than they were bound. Pioneer, the unmanned space vehicle, was at some
6.2 million miles distance from earth some twenty three odd years ago.
By something like the year 2007, AD Pioneer was still relentlessly
heading on further out into deep space at near this distance from
deep space as we know it. For as you would readily agree, what lies
beyond is simply beyond our ken. And Pioneer had not broken up or
suffered any major mishaps except being too far ‘from home’ to
communicate at it’s best level until it’s final calls back to home.
There had been other ‘deep space’ probes as well of course, and some of
them were named Pioneer as well.
one was in fact Pioneer 11. It was blasted into space in 1979 and by
1995 it was correctly sailing past the planet Saturn and continuing to
send us back wondrous photographs. I am sure that some of you out there
have seen the fabulous pictures sent back by this deep probe after that
period. During 1995 the signals started fading from Pioneer 11. Soon
later in 1995 all telemetry was lost from it, as it’s power base
finally gave out and then all contact was lost to us humans presumably
is known that the probe was heading for some stars in an arm of the
larger constellation that we call Saggitarius. It was said that
Pioneeer would still be blithely sailing by some stars in the smaller
group within the Saggitarius constellation known as Aquila, or the
have calculated that barring any accidents to Pioneer 11 it should pass
by reasonably near to one of the stars in that group in a mere 4
million years. But now man and women had broken another space barrier
or two. They would soon be landing on the red planet for instance.
ache of deeper space claiming them while all the while the blue plant
was rapidly diminishing in size behind them was palpable. The M2P2 or
Mini-Magnetic Plasma Propulsion drive that pushed them was in no way
yet fully extended. This type of drive was the brainchild of an
American, one Robert Winglee of the University of Seattle in Washington.
would take up to three months for this engine to reach it’s maximum
speed. This was speculated to reach approximately 165,000 mph. That is
to say by about just less than a third of the way to Mars it would
reach it’s full it’s full thrust.
it inevitably does require the three month period build up time in
gathering maximum speed. But it is much like the tortoise in that race.
The Argo was a lot slower than the NASA craft alright which used
nuclear fusion propulsion system, will but hopefully it would surely
like the tortoise’s win in it’s own way..... in the end.
Argo carried only enough fuel for the one way trip. This allowed
generously for a very safe margin for over consumption of the stuff
needed to arrive at there. There was also the question of fuel needed
both to get down on Mars and to get around once they were there. After
that more fuel would have to be manufactured aboard the Ithica while on
is as you remember the mother lode craft or manufacturing craft, which
had been sent on ahead of them. Water of course was another problem for
the astronauts. Scientists could by no means guarantee finding on Mars,
in a form that they could get at, so they would always reckon on using
a water recycling unit aboard the Argo itself. For there was at this
time, still enormous debate about the presence of water on the red
planet we call Mars.
Barbara Nunns-Lynch had been appointed largely because she knew ‘the
science’ of the basic matters which kept these six humans alive.
Oxygen, water and carbon dioxide and also bodily wastes were Dr
Barbara’s main concerns along with the general health of the crew. Even
before she spoke, Francois knew that she was going to talk about the
wheat trays up on the next level.
just knew and that’s all there is to it. Hey Dr, the wheat has grown a
full .5 of a centimeter since we started. I asked Nando about it and he
said that it was just great. Nando Parucci had of course been carefully
husbanding this valuable cereal crop during the short period of their
flight. For it was not for the humans to eat at all but in order that
they might breathe good and plain old air.
Barbara naturally understood the simple science behind the recycling
and she couldn’t fully comprehend most of Francois Diderot’s criticism
and rejection of the method. It was truly a well tried method in theory
and in Earth based programs but Dr Barbara was also well aware that it
was quite a new technique in days out of Earth’s atmosphere, while in
actual space time.
dwarf wheat recycling method had been tried out on the space station
named Son of Mir or ‘Smir’ as the astronauts all called it for short.
However this was for but a relatively short period of time. One could
have wished for a longer period of laboratory tests in space and that’s
for sure. But time had pressed down on the ESA and in the end they had
accepted it for the Argo
called Francois Denis most of the time. It was a joke. She used the
name after the writer and philosopher Denis Diderot. Of course this was
the name of Francois Diderot’s famous countryman who was one of the
French Philosophes in the eighteenth century. These were headed by
Voltaire and were largely anti church and regarded themselves rather as
the inheritors of rationalism.
was no doubt that the dwarf wheat oxygen recycling system that Barbara
was on about was still quite a controversial one to be sure. Oh the
system provided the requisite amount of oxygen alright but of course
like all crop systems they were at a small risk of failure or a partial
demise at least.
had to consider that your ability to breathe fine oxygen was always
subject to the success of something that you could pull out of a
planting box with two fingers. You could do that with the greatest of
ease he thought. Francois smiled that charming Gallic smile of his.
oui ma cherie and I have no doubt that we will end up feeling and
looking like what you English call Weetabix soon. That is if we mange
to keep on breathing at all that is.’
was after all an engineer. He trusted nuts and bolts and to some extent
computers, but after those he was the complete Gallic sceptic. In some
small ways, Dr Barbara’s nickname of Denis Diderot carried a deal of
truth with it. Francois finally finished the debate when he headed back
down the craft in a swimming motion to the exercise area where he was
doing some a low key emergency rewiring.
was always to show himself to be a bit lairy of this system known as
the dwarf wheat recycling system. And furthermore he loved to carp
about it whenever he could.
‘There is simply no comparison in the two basic systems’.
He told Barbara in deadly serious tones of voice.
‘Hey cherie, what if some simple bug destroys our bloody wheat or it dies of rust?’
went on and cited the absolute and true fact that the American system
such as the one aboard the Liberty was entirely different to the system
that operated aboard their ship. It is just so much more sophisticated
than this one he told Barbara. That was also the truth. It was not
anything like a system that depended on a primary agricultural crop for
it’s functioning. It did not faze her one tiny bit though.
was true enough that it was Barbara’s attitude to basically trust
higher authorities. For she reckoned that there was already enough to
worry about if your day job was to allow yourself to be hurled into
space for crying out aloud. But Francois Diderot had a meaner leaner
streak in him and basically he did not much trust farmers. Nor
Italians, and neither did he have a great belief in the idea that dwarf
wheat would continue to grow in space.
took only about seven days after his discussion with Barbara for
Francois to poke fun at Nando’s crops to his face during drinks
upstairs one night. Nando Parucci didn’t bite at the bait given him at
the time by Francois, but if you had studied him carefully you would
have seen that he had after all been a tiny bit hurt by this
unwarranted cut and thrust. Wolf was nowhere near to this small
incident and so had no idea that it was on the ship’s menu of
thirty five days away from Earth point Francois started dreaming about
purple death. He was reaping what he had sowed in his mind I suppose. A
couple of nights ago Francois had dreamt that he was dead and he knew
why he had died too. He had died from asphyxiation at his main station
inside the Argo.
dreams are just that, they are only stuff of the mind. Science and
technology continued to rule, and the ship continued on it’s chartered
path with nary an incident aboard to concern anybody.
Argo was a little less than seven months away from of their intended
landing date on the surface of Mars near to Mons Olympus. They had
traveled almost two thirds of the distance so far. They would find the
position of Mars thanks to a combination of Kepler’s Three Planetary
Laws. They would be closing in themselves to the red planet soon
enough. They had taken off from outside Earth in 2033.
was then some three years later than the most favourable perhelic
opposition between Mars and Earth. This occurs every fifteen years and
it simply means that the distance between the planets is smaller at
this time than any other time. The distance then can be expressed as,
56 multiplied by 10 to the power of 6.
the time that they left Earth’s orbit the distance was a little greater
than this, but there were also a lot of other matters concerning
Kepler’s Three Laws to be considered by budding interplanetary
travelers. How could you find Mars in our solar system, is a fair
question for instance? So you first find out what speed it is
traveling at, and quite simply put, one of Kepler’s Laws will tell you
it’s distance from the Sun. It’s simply axiomatic and no error can be
made in this.
eccentricity of it’s course around the sun which makes for far longer
seasons. In fact, the southern winter lasts 180 days for instance. So
you see, with a little bit of boy scouting and some fair mathematics to
hand, it is not all that difficult to strike out on a fair course for
Mars. A Martian year lasts 687 earth days, which our intrepid
astronauts called sols. In Martian terms the year lasts some 669 days.
The old version of the Encyclopaedia will inform you that there was no
accepted calendar for the planet. As we have already said, Wolf
Kandihar was desperately and effectively trying to amend this loss
was busy studying some of the mysteries of Martian geological findings
one day when he asked Wolf a question to do with Kepler’s time on Earth
in the early seventeenth century. After all he had been a fellow German
if that is what you might call a citizen of those parts at that time.
Is it true that Johannes Kepler’s mother was tried as a witch he asked
yes Helmut, it’s true all right my friend. Kepler’s mum was a something
of a difficult woman you see. She was very garrulous and fancied
herself as a kind of healer and was as difficult a woman as you might
find that side of the Alps. Well I suppose that you could say that she
made a good target for a witch. She often picked a fight with
every single one of her neighbours for instance. You could say that she
was an accident looking for somewhere to happen and that’s what
happened. Surely it was only natural that she would make some
for her, that’s what happened. One of these enemies was able to
convince a German nobleman to get a court to try her as a witch. And
the influential nobleman, after dilly dallying about the matter for
quite a length of time finally moved against her. Kepler’s mother was
arrested and thrown into a gatehouse attached to a town wall and most
disgracefully of all she was kept in chains in that same gatehouse for
some eight months.’
Wolf was looking closely at Nando now for he was interested in the effect of his tale on the Italian and he continued.
old lady was indeed put on trial at last, and her son testified on her
behalf. His testimony was somewhat influential too. After all of this
carry on, she was found not guilty of witchcraft by the court.
Well she was duly released, but the cruel neglect and awful torment she
had experienced all that time in chains broke the old woman down. And
the poor lady died within a couple of months after her release.
apologies were forthcoming from the nobleman indeed nobody in that
German town thought anything much more about the affair did they? And
the great irony of it all was that Johannes Kepler had already
formulated the bulk of his three justly famous planetary laws by the
time of her trial.’
there still remained that burning hole of a mystery. If Wolf and
Barbara was right, why in the Sam Hell did the yanks not want the world
at large to know precisely where on Mars they were? It was a good
question too. Wolf Kandihar and the Argo’s tried and patient crew was
now emerging from their near chrysalis state.
more than seventeen and a half months and more, they ached for some
more urgent action. And now after they had completed some 68 hours of
cunningly placing their craft into the correct orbit around Mars, the
final descent to Mars was in the offing.
was due to occur within 42 hours and there were a myriad of tasks to
complete before they started the ‘crane assist’ method to descend to
the red planet. If you are unaware of how the how the crane structure
peels back to reveal a now uncovered mechanism a little like a crane
takes a load up or down on Earth. This is designed to guide the landing
craft along an extremely strong line down to the surface of the planet
Chapter Five. Closing in on the red planet
is a spooling down type of method which creates no bumping along the
cratered surface of Mars as the many robot machines used in the
exploratory days were forced to do when they were landed by balloons
suspended above them. It takes only a little power to both land, or
take off again for that matter.
is almost no danger in the whole landing process and it is a system,
which can be done repeatedly. If for instance, the captain of the Argo
was to decide that they needed to shift to another site on the red
planet, it would be a relatively simple operation to take the landing
craft back up to the mother ship once again.
one thing that they did not need down on the surface was one of Mar’s
quite frequent dust storms. They didn’t really have any way of
surveying their Mons Olympus plains landing site as yet either. When
Argo was say about eleven hours from landing, they should be able to
pick up a lucid signal from ‘lode craft’ Ithica, which had now been
sitting on the Martian plain for just over eighteen months.
was equipped to give them quite extensive visuals around their
immediate landing area and perhaps for some ten kilometers beyond that.
Some Martian dust storms were utterly gigantic and in fact in 1971
earth observers tracked a major dust storm on Mars. This was
practically a total global affair, which covered a good part of the
surface of the red planet for a period of five months.
is approximately half the size of earth my friend, so that certainly
means some huge mother of a Martian dust storm. There is another
consideration to take into account in these dust storms as well.
Because of the thin Martian atmosphere, the wind needs to be above or
about 90 to 110 mph to lift the dust particles or grains up into the
the most these particles are about the consistency of fine talcum
powder and it means that the winds are indeed often completely
ferocious. If you think that there is red dust in the Martian air you
are already warned that the winds carrying the red stuff is above 90
mph at least. We on earth are used to our own form of strong winds but
the Martian winds are a piece of work of their own.
now there was a deal of expectation as they were rapidly nearing the
zone when they could start receiving images from Ithica. Francois
Diderot was monitoring the sets which were now blinking with the first
indicators that transmissions were about to happen. ‘Commander, she’s
coming through right now.’
voice was steady enough but punctured with an unmistakable air of
excitement. The monitor in front of them flickered once more and then
all of a sudden there appeared a very odd image. There were five of the
astronauts present and their faces contorted in mixtures of puzzlement
and baffled looks all round.
‘Err, what in the Sam Hell is that,’
was merely expressing all of their confusion. It was a fixed image of
red and pink rimmed with streaks of a much darker colour as you looked
further upwards. The impression was perhaps that you might be looking
at a part of an oddly coloured Mountain top. And then the image
vanished as the camera moved...of course thecamera was moving at the
same speed as the ship. They all debated what had been briefly captured
on the screen.
Wolf had spent some time talking with Brigette. He gave out an opinion to the rest of the crew...
it’s possible that Brigette’s notion about the image being a part of
big Mons seems correct to me too. I cannot see it being anything else
either.’ He tailed off and just for a tiny moment, he was looking hard
at the screen again as he scratched his head. I‘d just damn well like
to know what happened really? Carry on everyone please, and let us take
up our stations once more.’
who had been screwing her pretty eyes up and looking very hard at the
image suddenly began to point at the monitor and said without too much
I think that we are looking at a part of the higher rim of Mons Olympus
and the Martian sky now. Look again, it’s a larger resolution than
normal the eye would see it but I still think I’m right in what I see
some minutes of debate it was the general opinion that Brigette was
right in her interpretation too. The lone camera still partly
functioning on the Ithica seemed to be locked onto Mons Olympus at a
higher than normal resolution. It was a slightly magnified version of a
slab of the upper part of the giant volcano and the Martian sky that
they were looking at.
on this was proven to be exactly correct, as the Martian light stated
to fade and it was plain enough to see that they were now seeing the
dying of the Martian day as it slid into it’s evening mode.
Alois and the whole ESA team were also saying go for it Argo. Nothing
had altered basically. They were still ‘all go’ for their surface
landing and so they relayed their assent back to ESA as such. Alois
wished them all bon chance and they began the merciless procedures of
re-entry. This was definitely where you could make an error.
first priority was to enter the Martian atmosphere at the correct
angle. The second task was to place the Argo close enough to the
surface in a stable and very slow orbit, where they could safely
operate the ‘crane assist’ landing gear down to take them down to the
dust of Mars.
Americans had in fact tried the ‘crane assist’ method out on a moon
landing some four years ago. It worked just fine and it was not
considered a difficult or a controversial mode of landing a craft down
to a planetary surface. It had been the method that had a few brownie
points going for Doctor Mars’ invention. But in the wash up the
Americans had opted for the bigger spacecraft and what went with that.
It was almost the opposite in concept. They would be landing their
craft arse first on the surface. And this would be their one and only
ship that would be taken down to the red sands of Mars.
Mars had privatized and founded a company and financed the construction
of his own system in his home state of Kentucky. Subsequently NASA had
approved, and then followed up by purchasing the system for an unknown
amount of cash from Dr Mars of Kentucky. Of course Dr Mars had also
recovered some more monies from the ESA as well.
as I have already told you the Yanks weren’t willing in the end. It was
not the money that counted with NASA but a philosophy. He was now
completely retired and at his ease among blue grass, rolling downs and
the finely bred horses of home. Once again this is the better side of
the rather wobbly story of capitalism at work and play.
yes and it is all true. For Doctor Mars did smoke Havana cigars. He was
a most original and unstoppable character was Dr Mars. So that split
the two systems in yet another way. The version that Wolf Kandihar
would take down to the Mons Olympus Plains was a Dr Mars Mark 111
machine, and all systems were fair and ready as far as Wolf was
concerned. They had finished all their discussions about the necessary
preparations and now it was time to fire up and do it.
Chapter Six. Down to the red planet
the present, the Argo’s crew was buckled fast and hard into their
survival mode seats as they prepared to fire the five retro rockets at
the precise angles for their orbit entry bid. They had two chances at
this but in fact the second window was very small indeed. The first one
was their best bet by far. It was quite unlikely that their initial
firing would not put them into line to enter the very thin Martian
atmosphere. But should they require it, they had one more opportunity
to do so. That is if they did it extremely quickly. However, it would
be their last opportunity if they did happen to need
countdown was given to them by ESA back from home and wolf promptly
fired them on their way in. there was only a small jolt as they swung
down and away from the course that had been set on for nigh on
eighteen months of their lives. Down they were going then relentlessly
to a sunless and icy cold sea of red dust below them. At this moment
the Argo was being piloted by Brigette.
main job was to assess any data corrections given to the ace pilot and
she was coolly translating the directions into physical patterns of
steering the difficult patterns required of the craft. Down they went
for some thirty minutes at their most critical phase of the mission to
date. It was burn baby burn or survive.
had now cancelled their next possible retro firing. This was the ‘get
out’ or second chance for entry. The time for that was now passed. They
could no longer re-fire their retros they must hold to the first course
‘Point up you bastard,’
Brigette half to herself but half out loud, as she made that tiny
correction and she gave a grunt of satisfaction as the Argo came up a
little under her rein. Flying the craft at this moment was indeed a
necessity. It was a little like the old Shuttle crafts back on Earth
and it was no easy task. For computers could not do this job here
alone. If there was far less chance in burning up in this thin
atmosphere, the handling of the Argo was indeed a slippery task.
had to kind of slide into Mars with all the bullish grace of a
baseballer smooghing his body into third base feet first. Brigette had
done this a couple of dozen times or more in real time simulators and
with top computer models as well. But naturally Brigette had never been
here and done this until right now. Wolf silently acknowledged that in
reality, Brigette was the only person here competent to fly the Argo at
this very moment.
did not wish to wonder what might be if Brigette was not available to
do it. And as the Argo was now compelled to come in on the initial
retro rocket firing patterns they gritted their collective teeth and
hoped. Francois was counting down their height above ground level on
Mars while Nando was calling out their speed in klicks. Brigette had to
reform all this info into data that was relevant to her own eyes, ears
and hands. Just so and no less!
passed so seemingly slowly as Brigette held on through the buffeting as
the craft came through Mar’s thin atmosphere slickly. The lower they
went, the more they encountered very high winds. ‘Holding, holding, we
are holding here folks. Steady as she goes now. I think we are coming
in just fine folks. I can almost say for sure that Argo is on track for
a correct orbit here Jean. Just another three minutes Jean. Wait for it
now.’ we should have visuals quite soon.
of course was Wolf ‘s steady voice now. He was assuring Jean Alois and
the team back home that they were on track after the retro rockets had
been first employed. Three minutes passed and Wolf with the aid of Jean
Alois and the teams back up had made it into the Martian envelope.
‘See we have come through.’
was a female voice and it was Brigette, who was pointing to some huge
object, which filled both the Martian sky and the fuzzy landscape
below. Wolf interpreted what they were seeing quickly. ‘And look out
there folks, that’s a visual. It’s the biggest bloody volcano in the
sure enough, they could all easily see the great mountain that they
called Mons Olympus filling the craft’s window. It was truly a most
monstrous thing. And it was a fabulous thing to see. It was such an
eyeful for these harried astronauts. to take in. It took their
collective breaths away with a rush. Nando sighed and he spoke softly
but very passionately in his native tongue.
‘Ah, Dio mio, si bella, O bellissimo.’
then he went silent merely gazing down at the giant volcano as it
seemed to grow in size in the spacecraft’s window. In truth I do not
think that the crew of the Argo would have minded if Nando had broken
out into a gravelly chorus of ‘O Solo Mio,’ so pleased were they to have visuals of the Martian scene far below them now.
Wolf smiled warmly at his pilot on hearing Nando’s most heartfelt
words. Brigette also beamed outrageously and then she pumped her hand
into the air in an act of sheer joy of it all. And then a spontaneous
cheer went up through their locked in seated area used for all the
critical moments in flight. For look they had indeed come through. But
still the craft had to employ the ‘crane assist’ to get them down to
hard ground soon.
now they reckoned that it was perhaps the easy part. They had to do
this while the spacecraft was calibrated exactly to the rotation of
Mars and was seemingly hovering above the surface at some four hundred
feet above the sands of Mars.
should be sweet apples from here mate.’ This was Brigette, still at the
helm and turning her body to cast a sweet grin over her shoulder at
Nando and straining her seat belt to do so.
Dr Barbara chipped in now.
‘Guess what fellas, I don’t think we have a sandstorm out there to contend with either.’
was looking at a downward projection of the landscape as she spoke. In
truth they were still up a little too high to make a perfect call on
the matter but it looked clear enough from where they were. Soon Wolf
saw the signals from the global position beacon on the mother ship
Ithica down below them on Mars.
announced this fact quickly to the rest of the crew and there was a
suitable buzz of excitement mixed in with their professional and quiet
manner. She was smack in place down below them with all it’s goodies
waiting for them. Wolf promptly set a course to land the Argo two
hundred metres from her and also told the crew of that
about an hour they would be spooled down to the surface by the tried
and true ‘crane assist’ titanium rope attached to the ship. They would
still be slowly working the craft down to a suitable level during most
of that time. Besides, there were a hundred things for the crew to
prepare before they all left the Argo for there would be no caretaker
pilot left aboard her when they descended.
would stay up there in it’s very low orbit. The crew stowed their
personal gear into the landing craft, while each of the specialists did
a final check on the scientific, geological materiel and the like. Wolf
made sure that The Argo’s logbook went with him.
he shut the log he meticulously recorded their position in the Argo by
hand. Every person had another member of the crew beside them checking
now. As they double checked each item against the previously drawn up
some fourty five minutes of very hard work Wolf was confident that they
had not missed any essential item. Brigette and the computers had taken
them on a wide looping circuit to their chosen landing place on the far
side of Mons Olympus in the adjacent plains. They had dropped down
almost to the correct height to allow the titanium Indian rope trick to
occur as well. It was time now for the crew to embark onto the lander,
which was named Cyclops. There was no mystery why it was so named at
all. For it looked for all the world like a one eyed monster with it’s
huge landing light situated in the front of the machine.
finally, they all suited up and Wolf took one last look at Ithaca’s
lone camera. You might imagine that these astronauts looked a lot like
Armstrong and the other Apollo men that followed on all of the moon
landings, but that would be an error. They wore pressurized breathing
gear and an environmental suit which in the main, took care of the
extreme cold that would find here.
were only constrained a little in their movements and it was still
necessary to turn your head a little to see another persons face for
instance. For the present, they had a visual straight downwards only
without any thrilling details. That would come a little later as they
came were closer to the surface. Their global navigational beacons all
blinked a ditto message out to the commander.
were spot on the money now. If they went ‘down the rope’ exactly below
them at this moment, they would be say less than 300 metres away from
their lode bearing craft they called Ithica.
astronauts planned to live in the Ithica until they had constructed the
fold out quarters stored in the mother ship. It was here that the crew
of astronauts would have to live in harmony together or not, for
another two years. Two years my friend like it or lump it. Other
important items on the Ithica were the hundreds and hundreds of dwarf
wheat plants that had traveled in her belly to the Mons Olympus Plains.
were all so very healthy too and each plant was giving off all the
oxygen that Allah had meant them to do. Nando also had plenty of his
supply of wheat grains for fresh sowings when they had built their
‘home sweet home’ on Mars. You can never stop an Italian from being a
veggie gardener you know. No matter where you may roam and even if that
Italian is both an astronaut and an aeronautical engineer.
also used the same downward projection viewer that Dr Barbara had
employed before he quit his post. But it still wasn’t all that clear a
view at all. She was right though he thought. He did not reckon that a
sandstorm was blowing it was just that some kind of haze or clouding
obscured the final resolution of the 600 feet that lay below them.
could not make out the mother craft Ithica below him, and nor was it
possible to see the surface. It was likely that the atmosphere might be
slightly murky when they got down to the shifting surface of the sands
of Mars too, despite Dr Barbara’s early call.
took one last look around his control room while Brigette had to remain
behind for a while at the ship’s controls until she was ready to place
the ship’s controls on remote for the duration of the stay if that’s
the way it worked out. It was possible that it could be for a period as
long as two whole years.
was indeed in the lap of the Gods. After Brigette had gone, the Argo
would remain suspended as it were like the veritable sleeping beauty of
a princess, until they were ready to ascend up the same titanium rope
when they again employed the same landing craft that had let them down
to the surface of the red planet.
lifted something about the size of a laptop computer from out of a slot
in the console. He tapped Brigette lightly on the arm and nodded his
head. This gesture was significant enough. Wolf was signaling Brigette
to set the remote controls in place for the Argo to remain where it
was, relative to the motions of Mars.
was most necessary for him to watch her do it. This was now a critical
moment for if the Argo did not remain stable in this orbit, it meant
they could not risk leaving her now.
took some two minutes for the ace pilot to punch in the needed codes.
They watched all the instruments carefully to finally recognize that
the ship had responded exactly as o commanded. The Argo was ready,
stable and simply put, she was already awaiting their return. Just
whenever that might happen to be nobody could know precisely.
then at last Brigette rose, blew a kiss across her hands towards the
console from behind her pilot’s seat and then quickly joined Wolf in
exiting the Argo. Jean Alois had been kept informed of their progress
in putting the Argo on hold.
and another controller continued to monitor them as they descended in
the lander. There was the small ceremony to consider when they put foot
on sold land and the visuals were to be mostly handled by Nando Parucci
would both flip down the seals on their helmets before they floated
through the air lock into the Cyclops landing device. The lander was
not a craft as such, for it could only move up or down as the titanium
hawser allowed them, and it was at an Earth atmosphere right at this
minute. All the others were already sitting in there with their own
with all their gear at the ready.
helmets were also locked on, but they could still breathe a very good
imitation of earth’s sweet air for the present. Wolf kept the computer
he had taken out of the Argo’s console on his lap. It was a copy of all
the Argo’s master memory banks. Every piece of data that was stored in
the Argo’s copious computers was copied and stored in this small
computer on his lap.
was a lifeline and perhaps worth their life’s blood too and it would
sit in the lander until he carried up aloft to the Argo once more. This
small, black machine also contained the ‘dead man’s command, which was
set of constructions known only to Wolf Kandihar himself as the
commander. Allah forbid that any other human ever does have to learn
about too he thought. It was not a thought to dwell on though was it?
looked slowly around him and then nodded to Nando Parucci, who slid the
hatch shut as he winked at Brigette. The lander was a survival craft in
itself, and it contained such things as food rations, water, emergency
gear, weapons, first aid, a small transporter, extra air tanks, a full
could easily double as sleeping quarters if necessary for the seats
were designed to fold down to make emergency beds. It had to be heated
because the humans would never be able to withstand Martian
temperatures which only dropped further at night.
smiled a lot at every one and you could just make out her face giggling
a little behind her helmet. Dr Barbara touched Wolf lightly on his leg,
pointing out Brigette’s uncontrollable and public joy to the commander.
Wolf laughed as well and gave Brigette the traditional thumbs up
. Their situation was all go, he was saying. Jean Alois said the
same and Wolf nodded his assent to Brigette.
with an arch kind of grin on her dial, Brigette flipped the switch
situated on a panel near her bottom. And there was the sound of two
clicks, then a slight pause and then the Cyclops gave out a faint
whirring sound as it began to move down It was most quietly spooling on
down held onto by the titanium hawser to be set down on the sands
clapped her mitted hands in a kind of spontaneous glee as they got
under way. For some reason, Helmut looked uncharacteristically grim as
he sat there. They were on their way down on the last lap. They had
traveled downwards some 100 feet already by this time. There was only
some as 400 feet left to
Chapter Seven. Whom the Gods Love, They First Make Mad
way down Wolf halted the Cyclops for a moment or two. He wanted to
inspect the immediate surface below them. He already knew that it was
fifty two degrees below zero down there and it was no tropical holiday.
There suits were well and truly heated and they had no worries about
only view the astronauts in the Cyclops had of the alien red dust
covered planet was of the ground surface directly below the lander. It
did not tell them all that much, except that there were no boulders or
ridges in their way below them.
was deemed by all to be a fine landing so far. The Cyclops was in a
close proximity to the Ithica and the lander was soon moving down the
last twenty eight feet or so. All they felt was the gentlest of bumps
and they realized that they had landed Mars. The second team was down
and soon about to be out.
the Cyclops had settled, there were several explosive sounds heard.
Expanding bolts had been driven below the sands of Mars into the
bedrock. The sensors told Francois that these had driven home fast. The
lander was now firmly locked onto the fourth planet.
day was April, 27, 2004 and Wolf had appointed Helmut to remain with
the lander while the other five of them went out for their first steps
on the soil of Mars. Nando had his camera at the ready to record the
momentous moment as they prepared to open the hatch of the Cyclop’s air
lock which then led down to the few steps to take them onto the red
soil of Mars. He had a wide grin spread all over his handsome Italian
dial. Back home, Jean Alois was reading off a list of the outside
conditions as they computed them back on Earth.
had always maintained that Wolf would always be the supreme commander
as the man on the ground. No one can assess any danger or a potential
advantage better than the man on the ground was his constant mantra.
But nothing could have prepared them for what they saw when they put
their heads out of the lander.
the pinkish hue of the scene with the giant backdrop of the vast bulk
of Mons Olympus was a sight to shock even hardened hearts. It was like
nothing on Earth or on Mars for that matter either. Nando Parucci had
been all set to commence filming from the moment he stepped out.
what he saw next, stopped him right in his tracks. As soon as Wolf
glimpsed the awesome scene he gave a curt order to Nando Parucci. ‘Stop
rolling your camera Nando. Wait for me to tell you what to do soon.’ To
Jean Alois back home he said,
there is something well and truly wrong here Jean. Keep our circuit a
closed one and stand by for a while.’
scene before them was reminiscent of either a guarded factory on Earth
or of those ancient photos of Second World War prison camps in Germany.
Francois had a flag at the ready as he stepped down from the lander.
Even in their large helmets, the astronauts could clearly see the
Ithica on the bed of the Martian sands.
looked at Wolf but the commander just shook his head. But from what
they could make out, the Ithica was locked in and surrounded by what
appeared to be heavy mesh walls, wire and gates of a makeshift kind and
very next thing they noticed was the rather large spacecraft, which
stood some three or four hundred metres from the Ithica. It stood there
so majestically in the plains of Mons Olympus beyond the Ithica.
Wolf got back to Jean Alois quickly.
‘Jean, Nando is going to send you brief footage of what we are seeing. God in heaven.... this is just sheer madness.’
He paused for he was not a little in shock. He nodded at Nando Parucci who understood him instantly.
is closed viewing mate. I repeat this is for your eyes only and Nando
is pressing the code button to allow this to occur almost immediately.’
made sure that Nando knew what he wanted to do and together they sent
back two minutes of visuals to the ESA in an in-house code. This was
sure going to set the foxes among the geese thought Nando in a rather
weird moment. The wider world would not see this for the now. The coded
form would secure it from any possible pirating by either NASA or
reporters on the loose. What they themselves could not comprehend would
not make for a great deal of fun back home he thought.
on earth, but what Nando was currently filming, was most certainly a
space craft made on Earth. That much at least was indisputable. And all
of sudden Nando Parucci, who had been the second one to climb down from
the lander with his camera exclaimed in a very loud voice as he filmed.
‘Holy shit man.... that has got to be the Liberty we are seeing over there.’
as soon as he had said it, all the astronauts who could see the craft,
knew that what Nando had said was true. It was the NASA spacecraft,
which they, along with the rest of the world had been told had landed
on the surface of Mars some eight months ago.
here it was smack on their landing site. They finished the short camera
shoot and Wolf merely said to Jean Alois, wait further developments
Jean. We have to investigate further.’
had an ESA flag in his hands as he was clambering out of the lander. He
found that in walking it was just as they had said it would be. When
you walked you had a feeling as if you might be in quite a rapid lift
in a tall building back home. You definitely had a spring and a lifting
feeling but the atmosphere did not let you look like a Buzz Aldrin as
we had viewed him in that old film of him as he deliberately bounced
along the surface of the moon with much gusto.
had been the first one out of the lander for a good reason. It was
simply in order that he might honour the ESA’s magnificent achievements
in getting here at all. In other words, he was to plant their flag. No
matter that they were the ‘Second Team’ on Mars. Francois was carrying
something, which was highly coloured in his hands.
was their flag or emblem of course. It bore the European Space Agency’s
colours. And Francois meant to establish this tiny patch of the sands
on Mars in the name of all European enterprise and courage.
had died so that these six humans could step onto this red soil.
Francois had personally known two astronauts who had done just that. He
was practically about to stab the emblem into the sands of Mars for
posterity when he all but dropped it.
just could not believe his own eyes. He pointed rather wildly to his
commander who had just taken in the whole scene for the first time. He
was the fourth person to climb out of the lander and he looked towards
Francois in no small confusion.
‘What in the Sam Hell is going on here?’
He said to this to nobody and everyone over his head phones. He didn’t expect a direct answer though.
Francois did let the flag fall at that moment. He was retrieving it
again as Brigette Evianne was shielding her eyes in the harsh Martian
light to peer across the weird scene before them. Barbara moved a
little closer to both Wolf and Francois.
were all of them in total shock. This was not supposed to be scripted
in any play at all. Not on Earth and not on Mars and not in this solar
system either. ‘The bloody stars and stripes is what is going on.’ That
was Wolf speaking and his voice was as hard as the titanium hawser that
had let them down to this soil. At the same time, he was pointing away
in the distance,
‘Christ in heaven, the Yanks are here folks, and that is sure as Sam Hell what is going on people.’
boom and it all suddenly fell into place. For this was a true thing he
had said. Nothing else could have possibly made sense you see. There
stood the NASA ship the Liberty. It was about just over a quarter of a
kilometer on the other side of their motherlode craft the Ithica. The
Liberty was so big that it easily dominated the skyline even at that
terrain between the Liberty looked very rugged indeed and Wolf wondered
just how the Americans could have succeeded in getting from the ship to
the Itica. That is presuming they had made it over to it. The ship
stood with its retractable landing feet spread out wide on Martian rock
coudn’t quite make out all this detail from this distance but the crew
of the Argo were familiar enough with the Liberty’s design. The garish
pink and indigo sky only made the scene the more remarkable.
Indeed the scene partly because of it’s unnatural colouring and partly
because of the objects themselves looked most remarkably like a scene
from an old fashioned Holywood film. I am thinking of a film about
early space travel to the moon.
film like ‘Destination Moon’ say comes to mind so easily. The Liberty
was certainly a most exquisite design with remarkable engineering feats
staring at you right in the face. In particular the beautifully made
retracting feet or arms were simply out of this world in their
terrain was either bare rock or rock covered with sand. It was slightly
undulating territory with some small craters scattered here and there.
Rocks and boulders big and small were scattered across the stretch of
plain. The terrain between the mother lode ship and the Liberty was as
I have already said particularly rugged.
the most back at home it may have been called a gibber plain by some
people. But in truth it was a slightly wilder version than that. The
landing site of the mother lode ship was on a tiny plateau which saw it
to be a deal higher than the American craft.
would seem then that the distance between the Libery and the Ithica
presented considerable difficulties to cross either by foot or by a
Martian Rover. Presumably this was at least in part due to the rather
hurried change of landing sites by the Yanks.
though, apart from the shocking sight of the Liberty standing there as
bold as brass some distance away. If you turned your head the scene was
almost totally dominated by the awesome bulk of Mons Olympus rearing up
to unimaginable heights in the background.
was appointed to remain with the lander and the other five set off
towards the Ithica. The going however was easy enough for the five
astronauts and it was about a ten or twelve minutes walk for them..
Even togged up as they were with their heated suits and oxygen tanks
they made fair progress. Mons Olympus was now at their backs and they
could see both Ithica and the Liberty a lot further away from them.
clump of low buildings, which should not have been there took them
aback. Maybe they were the portable quarters thought Wolf. So what were
they doing there? As they came closer they thought that they could
discern a fence of sorts.
Chapter Eight. It just cannot be
astronauts who looked more like Flash Gordon or Brick Bradford of the
ancient days of the Twentieth Century rather than Neil Armstrong in
their slimmer survival airsuits. They were now wandering over a little
closer towards the strange fence line. They were still some hundred
yards away from it however.
chipped in once again. He was saying to the rest that it was
plain as the nose behind his helmet’s visor that the alien ship was in
fact the Liberty. Yep all the way from the old Kennedy space pad in
Florida it was for certain.
didn’t really need Francois to assert this now. They were now able to
see that the portable laboratory and living quarters were in place and
attached to the Ithica. Just as Francois was commenting about the
portable, he tripped over a small shovel that had been left there a
little distance from a footing of the fence. Damn these careless Yanks
he muttered as he continued walking. He limped somewhat as he went on
his way, nursing his left leg a little.
Nando Perucci kept on saying over and over almost to himself.
‘Why are they here then? It just cannot be. Why on earth did they land here? ’
All of a sudden Barbara spoke with a sense of urgency in her voice,
let’s go back to the lander quickly. Hey chief, I really think that we
have stumbled onto something very weird here. I mean really weird
Wolf. I don’t not feel one little bit safe right now. Not one single
bit I don’t.’
through her airsuit the others could see that her body shook a bit too
as she spoke the words. None of the others felt so fine either come to
that. And they all seemed to turn to Wolf at the very same moment.
Kandihar put his hand up in that time honoured group signal to halt.
Just like the cavalry used to do in the movies. Like the others he was
frightened but it wasn’t entirely lost in his thoughts. Approaching
closer they could easily see that a rough fence had been erected around
both the portable and the Ithica itself.
got onto Earth quickly. Speaking to Jean Alois, he demanded that the
ESA get onto NASA at Houston immediately for an explanation. What in
the bloody hell exactly were they up to, he asked him? But no
answer came the clear reply from Jean Alois from back home. Wolf said a
bit curtly to his director.
‘Jean, I’m closing you out for a while now. Get back to me when Houston gives you the info loud and clear. Do you copy me?’
took a pair of light heightened binoculars out and studied the
man-shredded and shocking terrain before him more closely. He was
looking away from the giant form of Mons Olympus, so the Ithica and the
craft beyond it stood out against the rather pink and grey coloured sky.
moved and there was not a sign of any human being at all. The makeshift
fences seemed to have been mackled together from a range of materials.
a lot of it was lightweight metal substitute stuff or something
similar. But it was certainly a solid enough affair for all that. It
would certainly stop a man from getting in without special cutting
gear. He could see too that the ESA designed portable construction from
the Ithica was also out there in the open.
was a kind of portable designed to be their living and scientific
laboratory quarters. And most amazingly it appeared to have been
left incomplete. This fact did really worry Wolf for it meant that at
least the bulk of the quarters could not be pressurized at Earth level.
were living quarters that could not be lived in. Not by humans at
least. Hey and this was meant to be their living quarters for the next
two years to come. He knew that with a slight bit of attention and
competence the structure could have been finished within five or six
a week at the outside would do it. But here it was and it was certainly
unfinished as it stood there. From where the commander was, he couldn’t
quite make out if the rest of the living quarters were sealed against
the atmosphere or not.
spotted some kind of a land vehicle over near the fence not far from
where the American flag was hanging. The was that this uncompleted
building was like some kind of a naked wound to the commander and
seemed to him to be symbolic of something even worse to come perhaps.
He liked not a thing that he could see here.
stood there in some isolation like modern version of a bloody Roman
ruin on another planet called Earth. Christ man but this was supposed
to be their own bloody living quarters here that they were looking at.
And in it’s own way, this unfinished construction was far more
threatening than anything else he could see. Somebody had started to
erect the thing and then for some reason they had simply stopped. But
then it might not have been that simple hein?
Martian wind caused some of the loose material to flap just a little
more than gently making it seem even more eerie. This strange scene
told him so much but also left so much unanswered. What in the hell
were they up to? It was simply nigh impossible to guess at what was
going on here.
to tell the truth Wolf was just as stunned as the rest of the second
team at what he had just witnessed. But he knew one thing for certain.
He had to make a decision and he had to make it very quickly at that.
Maybe Barbara was right at that and perhaps it would make good sense to
hurry back to the lander?
it would be the only sensible thing to do. He who lives to run away
might just live to fight another day. Wolf signaled for the four
astronauts to gather around him. They crowded together as well as hey
could. He was thinking of asking them to lie down and take cover but he
did no such thing in the end. It was a kind of circling of the wagons
while they met in council.
‘Has anyone seen another human or any kind of signs of them?’
was in serious mode now, and his voice was clipped and spiked with
energy. Nobody said a word following his question. Some of the heads
were shaking a negative, but not a single reply came from the small
group. So it was a given then, that none of the crew had seen another
soul here as yet at least. Then it was Barbara who spoke the next
have not seen anyone stirring here yet Wolf. What I am thinking right
at this moment, is are the Americans here or were they once here and
now they are not.’
too was shaking her head. She looked around her in that clumsy and
altogether awkward way that suited astronauts must to make contact. She
spoke into the headphones once again.
I mean is, are the Yanks still here with us now? According to NASA they
should have been on Mars for some months by now. A lot could happen in
that time Wolf. Just who is here then? And what’s more important, if
they aren’t here where in the hell are they then? And if they are here,
why don’t they just come out to meet us then?’
kept turning over the sight of those bloody living quarters lying there
in a semi-ruin just a hundred yards from them as they bundled
themselves into this hurried meeting. Well perhaps ruin is too strong a
word for just a day or two’s hard work on it could patch it up.
commander hadn’t had a spare moment to mention what he had clearly
noticed through the binoculars to the rest of the crew as yet. He was
still too busy taking it all into his own mighty computer. And
naturally, Wolf was not the only member of the crew who was thinking
course changes eh?
could not escape the conclusion that the Liberty’s apparent course
changes all that time ago certainly meant something else now. Many
months ago they had inexplicably changed course. It just had to do with
them ending up here.
facto and pray tell me, what else could you conclude then eh? Each one
of them mulled this over in their private
Alois got back to Wolf, telling him that Houston needed ten more
minutes to clarify the situation further. Wolf exploded down the line.
the situation my arse Jean, that is total bullshit from them and you
know it. It’s the year 2024 for Christ’s sake Jean and not the second
cold war of 2010. It all goes back to our original suspicions of
those course changes they made months ago.
it all Jean we had almost forgotten about that hadn’t we? I will wait a
while, but I won’t hold my breath. It will be getting dark here in just
under three hours Jean. And please remember Jean that I’m the man on
the ground here.’
Jean Alois replied in the affirmative.
Wolf we agree, you are definitely the man on the ground and we will
back you up a hundred percent in everything. Look a little closer and
hey be careful man too.’
Alois closed out with those last words and Wolf and his crew were all back with the silence of Mars and their minds.
Wolf moved up a cog or two after that......
‘Wait on a second and stay where you are.’
He said this to the others and then he crisply spoke into the open headphones to Helmut who awaited them back at the lander.
‘Hey Helmut, do you read me Helmut?’
A pause followed but a short one before the reply came back in the affirmative.
‘Yes boss I copy loud and clear; go ahead.’
Wolf thought silently for a while and then went on.....
I want you to break out the weapons from the locker on the wall of the
lander man. Arm yourself first and then hand the rest of the weapons to
Francois and Brigette when they get to you in a few minutes. Get them
wire cutters and a bolt cutter from the emergency gear as well Helmut.
Oh and you had better get out a full medic kit as well.’
right at that moment Wolf suddenly remembered Arthur, his son living in
the USA. It was of course a real feeling of mortality. He was scared as
hell at this terrible turn of things. But still he continued to make
fine enough decisions.
want you to stay by in the lander and then call the ESA pronto. Repeat,
you are to stay with the lander when the others come back here. Tell
headquarters that they are to stand by for an urgent message Helmut.
You probably already realize that the American craft is with us here.’
repeat, when Francois and Brigette return to us with the weapons you
are to remain in the lander with your weapon at the ready. Lock the
door as well Helmut because I’m not sure of the situation here at all.
I am just taking all precautions. The lander is everything to us as you
Oh and Helmut crank up the heat in the lander too would you? Do you copy all of this Helmut?’
The reply was swift in returning to the commander.
all is good sir and I read you very clear. I will get out the
Zendrons and the other gear right now. I’ll call ESA as soon as
possible and I am to expect the others back here very soon.’
Wolf broke in again.....
‘Yes do that and we will most likely be using the Cyclops as our quarters tonight Helmut.’
He closed with the regular,
‘Over and out now... for now.’
all of them had heard Wolf’s instructions and his orders further
sobered them a lot. Just as Wolf was about to make another call they
were interrupted. Brigette startled both herself and the other four
astronauts by her sudden cry.
damn it to hell Wolf, but I’m almost certain that I saw something
moving over there very near to the Liberty itself. I can’t say what I
actually saw at all though. It was a flash or a movement and that’s all
I can tell you Wolf.’
she frightened the total shit out of everyone with her next trick. Now
just maybe Brigette had worked herself up a tiny bit during the past
months. Perhaps she had become loaded up a little with her swapping
between two needy guys in the last eighteen months or so. But she
exploded outright in a blaze of words.
‘Hey you fucking Yankee bastards come out and deal with us like real men will you.’
Barbara was the first of the group to recover from hearing Brigette.
‘What do you think it was that you saw Brigette?’
leant towards Brigette as she spoke. But Brigette did not exactly know
what it was that she had seen at all. It was just a momentary blur
perhaps and it could not be classified as anything but a slight
movement. And that was all that she could say. The doctor joined the
rest of them at peering rather ineffectually at the distant spacecraft.
Now Brigette had fallen silent for a time.
truth was that she had shocked herself. But none of the others saw a
thing out of place, as hard as they might look. The others couldn’t
hear what the two women were on about as they had their heads close
together. They were chatting quietly together on the intercom.
too many things were happening to take it all in properly. Wolf did not
get out the binoculars again. Maybe Brigette had seen something or
somebody moving or maybe not. He needed to make other decisions for the
meant that there could be somebody watching them and waiting. Waiting
for what then? But even if they were waiting, Wolf figured that he knew
that he had got his priorities down pat. They couldn’t dare to
investigate things further until they felt secure.
did not right feel that way right now, so the Zendrons were required
and quickly too. He wasted no time either, for he had already figured
out that there was about four hours of Martian daylight left to them.
merely turned around and gave the orders to Brigette and Francois to
get the weapons pronto. He also reminded them that they needed four
rifles and one hand weapon only. They were to see that Helmut also had
a rifle and that he had loaded it as well.
might have called these Zendrons rifles, but they were something a
little more awesome than that simple name implies. What’s more, all of
the crew had been well trained in their use. He continued on speaking
that the Zendrons are at full capacity before you leave the
lander Brigette. We’ll meet you over by the fence near the American
flag. Look, there’s cover for us over behind that Mars buggy while we
wait for you to return. I might just be over reacting but we need some
remind Helmut that he’s to call headquarters too and please ask him to
put the lander on stand by power to take us up again if necessary. One
last thing before you go. When you are about to leave the lander with
the weapons fire one single round into the air will you? And so go
quickly and well now guys?’
nodded her head, to let her commander know that she had fully
understood him. Both the astronauts scurried away towards the lander at
all the speed that they could muster in their suits.
was almost casually pointing at the Martian terrain vehicle standing
now. It was as he said standing parked over by the fence. It was their
very own Martian Rover from the Ithica he was looking at.
Martian Rover was powered by a rechargeable oxygen and methane engine
of some quality. It sure as hell wasn’t a fast vehicle but was a most
reliable one. It had the added advantage of having the oxygen-methane
fuel mixture being manufactured in the factory ship as well.
he was pointing towards the terrain Rover he noticed a second Rover
with it’s bonnet poking out from behind a wing of the unfinished living
quarters. This one seemed to be the Americans own vehicle from the
had no idea what powered the American vehicle. Wolf was finished
speaking now and Nando could see that he was shaking his head in a
rueful manner at the sight.
was really a weird fence, and it had been erected by the American team.
What did it all mean though? Wolf shrugged inwardly there was just no
answers coming to him at all. None of this made any sense to him at
all. He wondered if the shot that was soon to be fired from the Cyclops
would arouse anyone. That is if there was anybody alive here.
started out for it with Nando Parucci just ahead of his chief. He was
looking around him warily now. They all walked together rather warily
towards the fence line now, where the flag was flapping uselessly in
the cold, cold, breeze. Still there was nothing stirring as they walked
towards the fence line.
wind had picked up a bit and some small clouds of dust kicked up in the
air around them as they walked. Nando was cursing the fact that he
hadn’t got around to clipping his toenails over the last four months or
so. His left foot ached somewhat in his close fitted space boots as he
went. He said nothing of this however to his commander.
Alois called in again after quite a lengthy absence. The contact was
not as half as good as it had been twenty minutes ago. For their
contact was inexorably breaking up now. Jean spoke again of NASA’s
confusion and garbled messages about the commander being either out of
order; or in complete desperation, or something very like that.
say it Wolf, I damn well know that it’s not a lot of help to you.’ Wait
again for better information soon Wolf. Very soon Bonsoir will be
knocking heads together I can tell you. Also Wolf, I am told on
reliable sources that the President is now working on the problem. They
are about to give us something a little more concrete I hope.’
Jean Alois meant the President of the United States of America. Alois continued his dialogue.....
Wolf, we have another urgent problem right now. We are getting solar
flare here and what’s more you are on Mars are moving to the opposite
side from Earth as you rotate. Consequently your signal is breaking up
Heavy static followed Alois’ very words as Jean continued.
‘We predict that we will be out of contact for a period very soon Wolf. What’s your signal like there?’
was bad said Wolf and rapidly breaking up to something worse. Their
prediction came true all too soon. There was soon complete lack of
contact with home. I’m the man on the ground said Wolf to himself. Some
ground was his next thought.
on red Mars, the man on the ground moved forwards. He knew that there
was only about three hours of Martian daylight now. The indigo at the
rim of the sky was deepening by the moment and shadows were creeping
out now. They would have to get a move on if they weren’t to be caught
in the dark.
naturally enough, as they got closer to it, they could see the fence in
more detail now. They could also make out the nose cone of the Ithica
which was to be turned into a small but very powerful ........ in the
lifetime of the next wave of European space Agency settlers.
for the portable, Wolf could clearly recognize some of the material
that had been employed in it’s making. Most of it was the less
essential parts of the living headquarters building kit from the Ithica.
obviously some of the tackle and construction gear had been brought all
the way from the Liberty at rest out there on the plains. That was
another proposition too thought Wolf. Perhaps all the Americans were in
the ship. It was just possible that they didn’t even know that they
were here too he thought rather forlornly.
probably the stuff to construct the stockade had been shifted from
either the Liberty or from the Ithica in one or more of their own
Martian rovers. And there stood the mother lode craft the Ithica. He
thought it almost noble in all it’s lonely imprisonment. The mother
craft stood hemmed in by this damned stockade.
were the Americans guarding it from them or somebody else? The
unfinished living quarters also stood isolated and surrounded on all
sides by those bloody barriers they had improvised so well with Yankee
can–do and their everyday know how. So one could deduce from what you
saw here that strenuous efforts had been made to secure the Ithica.
Chapter Ten. We’re Space Explorers...... Not Bloody Marines
three of them sat down on the bare rock of Mars. They had their backs
to their own Mars Rover parked at the fence line. They sat there lost
in thoughts. It was their stolen vehicle indeed if you took the strict
view of things. They waited in silence for the others to return with
the weapons. It was a depressing moment for sure. Barbara was still
trying to peer towards the Liberty. She kept an eye out to see if she
could verify any movement from there.
eyesight is probably a lot better than mine she thought. I would not
doubt that she had really seen something over there either. But she
kept her thoughts to herself this time. They heard the report of the
single shot from a Zendron ring out.
was the shot that Wolf had requested before the pair had returned to
the lander. They looked around then to see if there was any reaction
from the sound. But not a thing stirred either in the stockade area or
further away from the upright shape of the Liberty.
of this was built for protection of the Ithica Barbara was thinking.
But the burning question was just from whom was it intended to be
protected wasn’t it? It was not rocket science for her tell herself
that what they had here was a clandestine and criminal event.
had not told a single soul about what they were up to had they? It was
clear that either NASA or Tom Glenn or both of them jointly, had
managed to keep all these activities a secret from the European Space
had also managed to keep their actions secret from the Captain and the
crew of the Argo in particular which was much more to the point. That
much was clear to her as it was to all of the crew. But everything then
fell into a kind of blur after that. But if was the truly the case that
the American crew were had landed here of their own volition, what was
the reason behind their collective actions?
had to ask yourself for what reasons had this rash and even criminal
act taken place in the first place she thought. It was she
believed much akin to space piracy or even a declaration of war wasn’t
and Brigette stumbled back with the loaded Zendrons in their arms. They
carried the few other items in special carriers, which were strapped
over their space suits. Each of the astronauts took up a weapon and
Kandihar took the hand weapon for himself and not a Zendron like the
others. He was then a like a World War One officer might be on Mars.
The Zendrons were the best weapon that amateurs could use for defence.
were extremely powerful but safe and easy to use. You could have
knocked down an elephant back on earth that’s if you could find one.
The last elephant in the wild had died some four or five years ago. The
pair had also brought three flares and a couple of powerful torch-cum
searchlight with them. It was a cunning move thought their Captain. For
darkness was just over an hour and a half away by his
quickly formed two groups, with Francois taking up point and behind him
was Wolf with Barbara at the rear. In the second and smaller group
separated by about ten metres from the lead group, came Nando who was
just ahead of Brigette. All walked very warily with their weapons at
the ready as they moved along the fence line. Once again Barbara had
that same old feeling. She was thinking a lot of negative things right
at this moment.
can you do about men? Always, always, well nearly always, it ends up
with damn aggression. Here we are then scientists and explorers for the
most and we are carrying on like gung ho USA marines who have just
disembarked from a helicopter somewhere in Afghanistan. Hell we are
space explorers, not bloody marines.
Diderot ran his engineer’s critical eye along the fence that formed a
compound or stockade around the Ithica. Francois could see no sign of
any voltage carrying wire on the blockading fence. Nor did he believe
that the Americans could have afforded the battery power to be able to
electrify the fence line.
and Nando prepared to use both wire cutters and the bolt cutters to
make a gap in the fence as the others kept a wary watch on the Ithica
itself. Even their bolt cutters had to be insulated from the cold for
although their gloved hands were already well insulated the pressure of
extremely cold steel, beyond the feel of ice, might penetrate into
minutes work saw Wolf lead the five of them through the gap and slowly
work across the twenty or so yards that separated them from the as yet
unfinished living quarters. Again Francois Diderot took point but now
Wolf ordered them to spread out as the came nearer to the structure
that some of them had helped to design.
paused to quickly study the Mars Rover, which they had formerly spotted
parked while they were still outside the compound. It was their own
Rover, which had come to Mars with the Ithica. As far as he could
tell, the machine looked as though it would fire up if required. But
that was only a swift assumption after he concluded that there was no
outward damage or any noticeable malfunctions to it.
rounded the corner of the portable structure to find the main door with
it’s complicated locks still in place. And it was of course locked
fast. You would need either keys or more knowledge to get through here
could easily see gaps in the sides of this section of the portable.
They knew of course, that these portables were capable of being
pressurized and to be able to support breathing. That wouldn’t be so of
the section with the holes in it’s sides however.
used a hand signal to order the rest of the team to follow him on
towards the gaps left by the Americans when they had quit the portable
quarters. There was Martian dust piled against the side of the portable
to perhaps about eighteen inches.
could easily tell that he meant to by-pass the locked door and use the
holes in unfinished building to make their entry and Francois and Dr
Barabara checked their weapons for probably the third time in eleven
minutes. It was ‘lock and load time’ as far as they were concerned.
was obvious to all of them that the gaps in the wall were not caused by
any tearing at the wall from the outside. It was just as if the
builders had suddenly downed tools and not returned. Or something or
someone had interrupted their labours.
'A tea break peutetre’...
said this as she raised her eyebrows a bit higher. Wolf then asked
Brigette to stay outside to keep guard. She nodded her head a little
solemnly. She pulled a little face which bespoke of a small amount of
something hard to identify. Perhaps she was just a little scared of
being on her own right now. And that was only the truth.
Maybe Wolf sensed this in her. He went on.......
don’t move very far Brigette,’ he told her. I don’t know what is out
there and we need to cover our arses. Seriously now.... ok? We
won’t be very long, I promise you that.’
She nodded and then retraced her steps, with her Zendron almost at the ready.
Frenchman stepped through the rough opening without hesitation or
discussion at all. He could easily see that some of the Martian dust
had been drifting into the building. He was ready with a flashlight.
The room was gloomy but further up ahead they could see daylight
trickling in. They had been aware of the portable’s layout even before
they had entered it and so it was easy for them to find their way
around. It was known that there were three airlocks in all. One was at
that the end of the building. This was the main exit to the open plains
of Mars. You could similarly come back through here as well
went that way first and found that it was closed. At the opposite end
there was a short tunnel connecting the portable building and the
mother lode craft. It could also be used as an entrance as well when
you were not stepping sideways through cracks in the portable’s walls.
The short tunnel led to the living quarters. At the moment the
astronauts were in the laboratory and storage rooms.
living quarters were nearer to the direction of the Liberty while the
lab rooms faced towards the awesome bulk of Mons Olympus glowering down
on them. As a safety feature, there was another air lock between the
two major inner rooms.
commander had followed Francois after briefly touching Dr Barbara on
the arm to signal that she was to follow him. Their eyes locked for
that meaningful second and Wolf looked both determined and rueful while
it was hard to say what Dr Barbara felt by her facial expression.
then without delay he stepped through the opening followed by Barbara
and then last of all came Nando Parucci with a little wave of the hand
of goodbye to Brigette as she disappeared. Wolf had deliberately chosen
her to be as sentry here for her independence and undoubted courage.
But the night was now rapidly closing in and it was still a slightly
daunting task for anybody.
good reason for them to have thought about the flashlights from the
Cyclops thought Wolf, for there was precious little light inside the
unfinished portable. The two torches they carried bounced light off the
walls with almost every step they took. They noticed the dust over the
floor everywhere. Francois exclaimed something unintelligible when he
first spotted footprints on the dusty flooring.
last they approached a windowed section of the building through a
dedicated air-lock door which opened easily when they tugged at it.
Because the fading Martian light trickled in, they could all see the
interior far more clearly now. Although both Nando and Francois had
been instrumental in helping to design this portable structure neither
of them had seen it erected and they were like the others a little lost
in their surroundings.
all of them looked around the curving space of the tunnel like
structure. Wolf then made what was probably the obvious link.
‘It’s just like that unfinished wall we came through.’ They never even used this section that’s for sure.’
said this with not a lot of emphasis but it reflected what they were
all thinking. It was all so odd of course, and they were all mulling
over what they were seeing. It made everything a lot stranger. They
were all of them looking for more clues now among the dust on the
floor. You could feel that there had to be something very near to them
now that would explain what they had seen with there own eyes. They
were seeing things here alright in the dull light here but they were
not understanding one little thing that was going on.
fact, the lone guard outside the portable was feeling quite frightened
too. Now that she was standing around alone it was different. She was
already in the lengthening shadows. Despite her ultra-warmed bodysuit,
it took very little imagination to sense just how much the temperature
was dropping. She was just about to check the actual reading on her in
suit computer, when she decided to peer around the corner of the
portable structure. She took the few steps necessary to do so.
Brigette had no idea at all why she wanted to do this at all. She just
did it without much thought at all. In fact ever since she thought she
had seen something moving over towards the Liberty, her mind would not
let the image go. She began to attempt to replay what she had seen in
that one flash of time.
found herself then, looking towards the Liberty once again. She
shivered. Straining her eyes towards the rather retrograde
looking rocket ship she also thought it the indelible appearance of
faded Hollywood dreams.
but where can they be? No men and no women. But just where are
those bloody astronauts then? Was she worried about the Americans, she
thought? Or was she troubled about something or somebody which had
caused the Americans a lot of worry? The NASA craft stood maybe a third
of a kilometer or more away, dominating the skyline which was
definitely fast losing it’s pinkish hue.
Olympus was out of her view and the American craft although it was all
that distance away cast an unnaturally long shadow now. There was nary
another object anywhere near it’s size with which to compare it In fact
shadows were almost visibly becoming longer and deeper now. And even
the indigos of the Martian shadows were now blacking down to
deeper almost to the royal purple and darker shades of umbria that
Brigette had never witnessed in a sky before in her thirty four years
Chapter Eleven. Intimations of Storms
shivered a bit and catholic girl that she was deep down, she almost
crossed herself right there and then. Oh merde she said to herself, but
it’s a bloody long time since you thought of doing that girl. For once
again she could have sworn that she had seen that same flash of
movement coming from some distance up the length of the Liberty.
vision had been so sudden for only that nerve jangling brief moment.
Once again she could not be certain what it was that she had seen. She
began to walk back to her sentry point as quickly as her light but
still slightly cumbersome survival suit would allow her to do so.
began to kick up a little at her feet now. Brigette looked around her
most nervously, for fear nearly always comes from the unknown and she
was purely and simply surrounded by almost everything unknown in this
damn place. She wasn’t a scientist but mostly a woman of action. She
desperately needed to do something rather than wait.
and watching were not this one’s forte. She knew it was a common thing
for a Martian dusk to bring on dust storms but only time would tell if
that was to be the case. It was certainly plain to see that the wind
was picking up a little. In the end she had decided that a storm is
definitely on it’s way..
she continued to look anxiously at the hole in the unfinished section
of the portable where Wolf and the others had clambered through fifteen
minutes ago. She could easily observe the dust bouncing off the
portable building. She rather anxiously called Wolf, who told her that
they would likely to be coming back within five minutes. She warned him
of the rising winds.
had decided to proceed to enter the end section of the portable
structure. But he hesitated for the air lock door into the next room
was wide open. He moved forwards gingerly. On entering, they could
clearly see that they were in the general living quarters. It had been
named the Huygen’s room back on Earth. The very quarters that two of
them had helped to design.
all recognized several features, which really made him feel distinctly
odd indeed. There were two or three couches and there were also seven
or eight beds too. And thus the half mad thought of ‘Goldilocks and the
Three Bears’ entered Dr Barbara’s mind as she wandered around the
rooms. But once again it was quite plain to see that not a soul had
lived in this room for long either.
was scanning the quarters for a clock that might give them a clue or
two here. But he could see no sign of one. However there were a couple
of sheaves of papers in front of He decided to lift them. If it had
been the other way around and he found out that the Americans were
flogging his material he would have been mad as four beehives.
in the circumstances, Wolf didn’t quite see it that way at all. After
all they might be eaves of what might be building plans or manifests.
He swept them off the table and pocketed them for scrutiny at his
leisure later on.
had meant to go on further towards the Ithica through the short tunnel
to investigate if they found nothing in the portable buildings. But now
he was looking at his watch. He signaled to the team to retrace their
steps. There was no time left for this now and had obviously changed
his mind. He got onto the headphone to speak to Brigette again.
‘We are starting on our way back now Brigette and we won’t be long. What are the conditions outside like?’
voice was steady enough but Brigette could tell by a few tricks in his
voice that whatever he had seen had unnerved him somewhat. She informed
him that it looked like a nasty dust storm was brewing and she added.
better hurry up I reckon boss this storm is kicking up something wicked
now. Visibility is down to about a hundred yards now boss.’
before Wolf was about to turn back he spotted a light switch on the
wall. Of course he did just what you would have done. He flipped the
switch to on. The room was suddenly illuminated. The four astronauts
looked at each other.
and curiouser just as with Alice down that dark hole. So the wiring to
the powerful range of batteries in the Ithica was complete then. Power
on as well! That told him something at least. There was definitely
power in the Ithica and secondly, that the Americans had been inside
the mother lode ship for certain.
had been constantly told that they had to turn on the power when they
first entered the Ithica module. Someone had beaten them to it. He was
a bit stunned by this major revelation and he decided to get outside in
pretty smart time. Nobody on Earth had thought to place a lock on the
Ithica. Why would you bother?
team worked their way back coming again through the open air lock.
Always they moved carefully, with their weapons still at the lock and
load position. They still felt as if they could not afford to take any
risks at all. It was still the unknown things that played collectively
and individually on their bright minds. You may also imagine that
Brigette was full of joy to see Dr Barbara emerge through the gap
again. And you would be right at that too.
were greeted by masses of swirling red dust as they clambered back
outside. This had the effect of clogging over their face screens and
partly obscured all proper vision of the astronauts. They were soon
informed by Wolf that they would have no option but to make their way
back to the lander.
called Helmut to inform him of his decision and told him that they
would all stay in the lander for at least the night. He also asked him
if Jean had been in contact again. That was a negative, and so they
turned towards the lander.
team had only gone a few steps when they realized that the storm was
going to make it hard enough to get back to the lander now. The scene
was surreal too. In jagged air of flickered alternating light and dark,
they sometimes caught brief flashes of the far off massif that was Mons
at other times they could not see ten feet in front of them. Finally
the giant volcano was completely wiped out of sight by the great red
storm which engulfed all and asunder.
The air grew thicker with flying red dust and it was Nando who suddenly stopped them all in their tracks.
‘The Martian Rover, we could see if it will start chief.’
Wolf nodded a quick approval and a rueful lopsided sort of a grin.
‘Damn it I forgot all about it. That’s a top idea Nando. Go to it.’
They only had to retrace their steps some few yards to get back to the Rover.
started without any problems and Wolf jumped into the driver’s seat and
they headed off. If they had not been in possession of direction
finding it beacons operating back to the signals being sent out by the
lander they may been worried about getting back there at all. For
by now the air had become completely thick with the flying dust. But
just less than ten minutes later, they came through the storm to find
their temporary home away from home with Nando half lying across the
rear of the rover.
attempted to contact Jean Alois one more time from the lander, but it
was still to no avail. The explorers managed to clean themselves up
with a lick and a spit and a tiny bit of prayer. They soon began to
break out rations with a renewed warmth and cameradie within minutes.
Barbara suddenly stood Francois up front and centre and examined his
dodgy leg. She massaged it for a while and proscribed an unhealthy
amount of pain killers for him.
soon most of the group bedded down and the Martian world slowly faded
down to a paler pink kind of a well earned sleep. Wolf took the first
watch himself. Wolf’s day’s work was extended for the simple reason
that he felt that he should sit down with Helmut to monitor possible
incoming messages as the rest of the mob settled into that mired mist
of sleep. It was not twenty minutes later that they gave that up as a
bad job. Helmut went to sleep and that left Wolf alone to his own
he was alone and settled, Wolf got out the books and logs he had taken
off the shelf from the portable. At first he leafed over some
scientific notes that were of zero interest to him. The next slim
volume was some kind of a recording of mean average Martian
temperatures. He would look at them later on. The next lot papers that
he picked up seemed to be a normal manifest which seemed to be of
little interest to him. He was just about to put the manifest down when
his eyed caught the words near the bottom of the page.....
‘By order of Lieutenant Perry Crosswaite USN dated the 22, November 2003’
where do I know that name from he thought idly at first. Then he had an
idea. He went to the ship’s memory on the computer discs he had brought
down from the Argo. He had been right too. When he searched for the
names of the NASA crew of the Liberty the name Perry Crosswaite USN
came up right off.
was in fact Tom Glenn’s second in command of the expedition to Mars.
Now Wolf knew well that in a six man group command, it is very rare for
the second in command to sign an order in his own name. It’s not a
thing that would happen easily at all. It was absolutely the same in
his command aboard the Argo. The order had been signed some six months
ago too. What did this all mean for them now?
was quite strange you must understand. He would never expect Dr Barbara
Nunns Lynch to sign such an order for instance. It just was not on
actually. Among six people there is not much room for a second in
command really. In the main the position is only nominated in case of
dire events occurring. This meant largely, either the death or the
incapacitation of the local Commander.
this then raised the moot point then of just why Perry had bothered to
sign that manifest. He only pondered this for a short time before he
turned in himself. He could hear the sound of gusts of wind raging now,
as it blasted tons of sand against the Cyclops sides at high speeds. So
he reckoned that he knew what tomorrow’s main problem would be already.
wasn’t at all worried about the Cyclops being able to cope with the
violent dust storm. He remembered the sounds of those bolts going home
in the bedrock when they had landed. Naturally the ESA’s finest had
designed the Cyclops to withstand over two years of intermittent storms
such as the one they were experiencing. Before he turned in he tried
without success to contact home.
could not yet raise them at all. It certainly only added to their sense
of almost absolute isolation and their total bafflement of what was
happening around them. Robert Falcon Scott and his fellow polar
explorers might just spring to mind too but perhaps that was an
exaggeration at the moment at least. And Wolf was calm enough if very
wary. It was true that it had been a long, long day and he was almost
asleep before his head had hit the head bolster of the extended safety
seat aboard the Cyclops.
Chapter Twelve. Councils And Debates
had been correct about the dust storm for it was still raging when he
awoke. Consequently it turned out that they would not be going outside
of the lander on this day at all. Neither could they venture outside
the following day either. Chess and mind games over the Americans
behaviour were the main items that featured. Ever on the ball, Barbara
had decided that a brain storming session on their situation was in
at Barbara’s suggestion Wolf had them study all of what was known about
their situation logically and clearly. They wrote down the salient and
known points on one piece of paper. Barbara suggested that they started
from what they did not know to the known.
the paper was a list or rather two lists. There were two headings on
the piece of paper. One read the unknowns and the other read the
knowns. The list is as below....
Unknowns ....we haven’t been inside the Liberty.....Can we get into it at all? And are they in there?
Ditto the Ithica.
Why did the Liberty change course?
Was there an accident or an incident aboard the American craft...for them to originally change course then?
Did they then intend to come to our landing site from that time onwards (an accident) or had they always intended to do so?
Have they left the landing area?
Why was the stockade built at all?
Why was the portable left unfinished?
We have seen nobody.......why?
When will contact with Earth resume?
Why have NASA been so quiet even when we were in constant contact?
wrote down all of the knowns and the givens. And all of them considered
them carefully....we know that the NASA team has definitely been inside
the Ithica, for they did get the portable building material from it.
Also the pressure pipe has been attached. We have also seen their
footsteps inside the portable come to that.
We know that the power from the Ithica is attached to the portable.....another reason to know that they have been in the Ithica.
know that the pressure pipe between the Ithica and the portable is
attached. ( It cannot be made to function because of the gaps in the
Obviously the portable has not yet been pressurized...........the gaps in the side of it prove this.
It (would obviously seem) that the Liberty landed safely.
They took out the Mars Rovers at some time or other....both their own and ours... from the Ithica.
know or at least we believe that Perry Crosswhite signed that order
that we found in the manifest... ( but we do not know why.) Is
Glenn dead then?
lists were mostly the work of Barbara and Francois, although Wolf had
chipped in now and again. Then they showed the piece of paper to the
others to see what they might like to add to it. There were quite a few
known facts actually, which made it all more the stranger that there
still so many mysteries here.
then interrupted a chess tournament in which every one except Wolf was
taking part, to try to brainstorm the subject for some twenty minutes
or so. Nando laughingly quipped that it would merely put off the moment
when Brigette would clean them all up once again. Nando was most
probably right in this too.
her part, Brigette constantly made the offer to take off a pawn from
her side for anyone excepting for Wolf. He didn’t play often but he was
the only one who could regularly give Brigette a decent run for her
money. The brainstorming session was in full force while the fierce
Martian sandstorm was still in full blow.
was still howling most bitterly against the sides of their well pinned
craft. It seemed to have even gone up a notch or two. Maybe it was
trying to blow itself out like some storms do back on Earth. Back on
Earth was a thought to consider with some wistfulness added to it as
a year and and a month had passed since they had left that sweet but
struggling blue planet. In truth both of the missions to Mars were
being quite falsely represented as some kind of saviour for a most
global warming had steadily progressed as most observers had promised
it would. Deserts were still growing. The seas were still rising and
the ice shelves were still sliding into the warmer sea.
polar caps too continued to shrink and water was either impossible to
get in the fresh variety or too plentiful in the salt type which came
with the seas swallowing up the low lying islands of the Pacific and
elsewhere as well.
of the more unscrupulous politicians on both sides of the Atlantic has
lauded the shots to Mars as being a shot in the arm to a troubled Earth
population not to mention the dwindling animal species. We could
migrate soon they boomed. We will have another Eden within our reach
the general run of things the six astronauts had developed a
potentially long term harmony within the group. It must be remembered
that they had to be together and to survive for almost another three
and a half years And all the buzz of them landing on Mars, to be
discovering some other if a rather dusty Eden had vanished with one
blow of deceit and still hidden lies from NASA.
their cursed eyes said Nando under his breath for he truly wished to
just get on with exploring the terrain of Mars. For the Mars that he
had often dreamt of was naturally enough similar to all aboard the
Cyclops. He had only expected to be busy with scientific matters or in
the exciting duties of personally exploring the red planet.
now here they were, locked up both in the physical and the metaphysical
sense. Locked up and only the shades of man’s bloody war like ideas and
contrary nature when they did go out again.
‘Oh God,’ repeated Nando for the tenth time or so. ‘Why did they do it? Just tell me why oh why God?’
was a tense time for them all naturally. Another whole day and night
had passes since they had returned to the lander. Perhaps the storm was
beginning to abate somewhat but they still couldn’t venture out just
yet. Not knowing what it was that they had to face out there hidden
amongst all the flying red dust would have truly worried any old Welsh
saint at all.
were facing another night in the lander and possibly worst of all,
there seemed no possibility of contacting Earth for the time being.
Francois was the first of them to set out how he saw it. And being
trained in that typical French rationalist philosophy, he attempted to
work it out through his version of logic.
are confronted here by three possible reasons why we have not seen the
NASA team he went on confidently looking around at each of his
colleagues in turn. That is to say assuming they have not quit this
area. We do know that they could not have left in either of the
vehicles and therefore they could have only made off by foot if did go.
we can’t say for sure whether they are here in the landing perimeter or
not. But assuming they are they are here, they must either dead, or
they wish to remain in hiding from us, or they just don’t know that we
are here.’ There was complete and utter silence in the main cabin of
the landing craft at this moment as they all digested Francois’ words.
Finally, Brigette made a kind of sneaky pawn move that had to be watched carefully.
Francois mon ami but there is a fourth possibility and a distinct one
at that too. Yes it’s true that they may all be dead but we certainly
haven’t enough evidence as yet to say whether that’s so or not. But the
fact is, that they might just not be able to come out to us might they
as we are currently unable to step outside the Cyclops because of the
dust storm, they may be incapable of moving towards us even if they
know we are here.’
said this lightly enough for she was well aware of Francois’ rather
elevated Gallic sense of masculinity, not to mention a fair dose of
male of his mostly healthy ego. And to be fair to him, Francois at
first looked as though he was about to attack Brigette’s small gambit
head on but he held himself back. Helmut was the first to reply.
remember once when I was quite a young man in at home in Munich, I read
a diary written by an English priest. The book had been translated to
my language. It was all about this particular priest who lived in the
English countryside in the eighteenth century. He wrote about a
shocking winter, which had descended on them all with unabated fury.
Little by little the roads became impassable and their own little
corner of the rural world continued to shrink daily.
bad was the snow those days and the rain and the tearingly freezing
winds that winter that they couldn’t even visit their neighbours. In a
shockingly short time they all were trapped on his little property.
Snow drifts had blocked any possibility of even getting to the church
or to visit their neighbour’s house down the road a bit, let alone any
chance of getting to the nearest town or village.
I am trying to say then is that I thoroughly agree with Brigette’s
fourth proposition or possibility. They could be let us say then; be
And then Francois nodded his head quite vigorously and looked directly at Brigette with a deprecating grin.
and I sure agree with what Helmut’s saying here completely. We are all
trapped here ourselves for the moment, and the NASA team might quite
logically have had similar constraints. So the possibility must exist
for sure Brigette.’
Barbara had been one of the listeners up until now and she leant back in her chair and began to speak slowly and deliberately.
was just as surprised as anyone here or on Earth when we
knew found out that the Liberty had changed course. And I reckon that
we must go back to when they did so in order to discover the American’s
reasons for landing here.
happened to them subsequently may or may not have any thing to do with
them changing course. They must have known that their destination was
our prime target for a landing site. I mean at the moment they changed
their course. And so knew why they were coming here as well. For the
only reason would be that they needed something. So desperately in
fact, that they were willing to risk an international incident of the
first order to do it. What was it they required then? Was it fuel,
water, air or a place to repair something where they knew that they
might find a replacement for some part or other here? This joins the
list of unknowns but I think that we should concentrate on these items
and any others that you think might have been needed.
it was that they needed they had just over two months until they landed
here. It was not a matter of live and death overnight to them then, but
it was a longer but still life challenging situation for them’. But all
I feel is that something happened.’
nodded in agreement with Barbara and said something about being
compelled by dire emergency to take such drastic actions.
‘It must have been something pretty gross that occurred, that’s all I can say.’
Wolf had been listening to the debate carefully.
I‘ve been thinking a bit people. We can’t raise Earth right now, but
I’m wondering if it might be possible to contact the Americans over the
air. We at least know that they were here. And we believe that they are
still here ..alive or dead I mean. We must assume that
their communications systems might be still up and running. What do you
think of that Helmut?’
was their chief communications expert with many years of experience and
he almost loved his commander. He grimaced now as he told Wolf that it
was quite unlikely that they could hook up with the NASA wavelength for
quite some time no matter what he did.
don’t even have a notion about their wavelength at all boss. It’s
true that we were given a wavelength originally, but that does not
raise them now. We have tried it already. Anyway we hardly ever
expected to be in any position to discuss the price of eggs with the
Americans on the surface of Mars did we? At least not so soon anyway’
‘True enough too Helmut, true enough.’
Replied the commander as he rotated his chair, ‘but I‘m still wondering if it might not be worth a try all the same.’
you are then chief, will do.I will fix the computer onto a random and
locking code search. If their channel is open we might strike it lucky.’
and Wolf took it in turns for almost three hours quarter to raise the
Liberty’s crew by seeing that code searches were being made. They
constantly changed channels and adjusted their system but Helmut turned
out to be right, for they could raise nothing from the NASA crew at
on Mars was all that was returned to them for their efforts. So they
now had silence from both the home planet and here too. Not so good
then Freddy not so good at all. And so after that abortive attempt
Helmut and Wolf joined the others in settling down once again for
another questionable evening’s sleep in the lander. And tomorrow they
would have to go to the American ship to discover what they might for
Chapter Thirteen. Death is so permanent
were traveling towards the American spacecraft and with some courage
too. The Martian Red dust storm had trickled down to almost
nothing now. They were in the Martian Rover now and they were armed
once more. So were the two astronauts left guarding the lander. For
this time Wolf had appointed two of their number to stay with the
Cyclops. He had said nothing of his private thoughts on the matter but
he was just a tiny bit worried about protecting what was really their
main asset, namely the landing craft. It had never entered the
designer’s minds that the lander could face a situation like this. How
could it have been conceivable?
the lander they were totally lost and that was non negotiable. So
Barbara and Francois were appointed to be on the alert back at the
lander while the other four were crammed into the Rover. Wolf was
driving again and had decided to go to the Liberty first off this time
around. If they found nothing there the mother lode craft would be a
kind of last resort.
last resort that is, to obtain at first hand a logical explanation to
the whole cockeyed situation. Besides he really believed it was the
Liberty, which would answer their many questions. It just had to have
some explanation for them. Francois was to intermittently continue to
attempt to contact Jean Alois in their absence and get back to Wolf
immediately if contact should be made.
were now driving along extremely hazardous terrain between the Ithica
and the NASA spaceship. The mighty ravines and humps and great
gibber-like stones flung across the plain made for dangerous driving in
the lightly framed Rover. Mons Olympus’ giant form was at their backs
now and because the raging storm had completely ceased to blow when
they turned their heads they could clearly see the ancient volcano in
all it’s glowering hues of magenta, pinks and blues towering out of the
plains of the plateau might look flat enough from the air alright but
the section they were now traversing towards the American craft was so
rugged at times that Brigette, Helmut and Nando were forced to get out
of the Rover and guide Wolf back and forth until they could find a
passable ravine to follow. If they were going to do this more than once
they would have to be alert to the fact that it was quite possible to
get lost in this maze of a landscape.
after more than forty five minutes of this difficult crossing they
finally approached the monster craft called the Liberty. As soon as
they were within fifty metres of the craft one of the recent mysteries
was instantly cleared up although it immediately gave birth to another
identity of the moving object or objects that Brigette had spotted not
once but twice was now quite obvious to the astronauts. The Liberty was
large enough to require an elevator which was attached to the craft.
This was a small but quite powerful lift designed to transport both men
and materiel up to the Liberty’s main hatchway.
their eyes then for the thing was slowly moving up and down along it’s
rails. It would start from the bottom rise the thirty feet or more to
the hatch and then after a small pause start to descend to begin to
rise once more after a similar pause at the bottom.
was not even the word to describe what they were seeing here. It was
truly a thing to simply fill one with awesome thoughts. Wolf sought up
some comfort in a logical thought here. So there was power in their
ship at least he mused. Wolf conveyed this very idea to the other three
after finally gathering his wits from the shock of seeing the thing
was like staring at some giant and ghostly carnival Ferris wheel which
was still turning at four am when all the carnival grounds are dark and
totally deserted. Like the great wheel sitting in the Prater in Vienna
come to Mars perhaps. It went up and down like some ghostly thing.
an American rover stood some twenty metres from the craft. That surely
meant at least someone should be here thought Brigette. She nodded
towards as she pointed a finger at the rover. Wolf interpreted
Brigette’s thinking immediately. It seemed just that obvious.
was no escaping the surrealism of the elevator lifting itself up and
down repeatedly. They all got out of the Rover and Wolf signaled that
he was going up alone on the elevator. He told them that he would try
the hatch and if it opened he would enter the ship. He summarily
appointed Brigette in command for the duration of the time he was gone.
also told them to give him up to three minutes inside. If didn’t appear
after that time, then were they to act. He meant to quit the area. He
repeated the instruction to Brigette who nodded her head again but said
nothing. The six pairs of eyes looked upwards as if those eyes were
controlled by the same brain. The idea of leaving the Commander inside
that thing was not something easy to arrive at.
hatchway was only a third of the way up this massive rocket but it did
seem accessible at least. Wolf locked and loaded his hand gun and
signaled to the others to back away somewhere behind the Rover and to
have their weapons at the ready. He had already assessed that he would
be able to step of it to the small platform before the hatchway before
it made it’s way back down again. If not, he could easily remain on the
elevator and come back down on it. He stepped on a started upwards.
rocket could easily stand on it’s haunches because of it’s huge
retractable fin supports which propped the ship up with a readily
observable stability and ease on landing. In full flight, the large
fins or props were simply withdrawn into the great body of the Liberty.
three astronauts watched him quickly step aboard the elevator. And then
it started on it’s way up again. The waiting astronauts weren’t quite
at all sure what to do with their cocked weapons. Should they have
their weapons lifted and at the ready now or not thought Brigette.
the end he decided to signal the others to give their commander cover
by aiming up some where just below where he was headed.
‘Don’t even think about firing no matter what happens if Wolf is anywhere in your sights.’
She told them with a half a blink of the eye....
‘Just breathe very slowly and wait.’
showed them the thumbs up sign just as he was about to step off the
elevator. Now he was trying the hatch. They heard Wolf’s voice through
their intercom now.
“I’m going in now folks.’
could see that he had it open and with no hesitation whatsoever he
entered the airlock. The door closed behind him. And nothing happened.
waited for what seemed an age to them. But Brigette was timing him most
closely now. Two and a half minutes past and there was not a sign of
the commander. Helmut started to agitate to move but Brigette held them
‘You heard what he said Helmut. He said to give him three minutes; now hold yourself in a little longer. He will be back soon’
few seconds before his time was up they all saw the hatch swinging
open. To their relief Wolf was there and giving them all another thumbs
up sign. It was just as he was about to step onto the slowly moving
elevator again that they all noticed Wolf pause and peer around him.
stayed on the platform and he looked as if he was looking down at
something on the other side of the Liberty. It was as if he had seen
something out of place there. He signaled to them to move around to the
far side of the craft and almost at the same time his voice came
through the headphones to them all....
‘The ship’s not at Earth’s atmosphere Brigette.’
then Wolf stopped suddenly, as if he was concentrating elsewhere. He
was in fact looking downwards and to the rear of the ship.
I can see something odd about twenty five metres away from the ship on
the side almost directly opposite to you. Swing around there and have a
look will you. I’m coming down to see what it is.’
led Nando towards the opposite side of the craft while Helmut waited at
the elevator until Wolf climbed off it. And then the two followed the
others around to the other side of the Liberty. Wolf and Helmut were
keen to catch up to the others and they were hurrying on.
They were staring at something hard when Wolf came up to them, saying over the headphones to all of them.
‘There’s nobody at all aboard the damned ship and.....’
meant to continue but Wolf never got to get the end of his sentence out
about the ship be it damned or not. Because Brigette and Nando were
standing stock still and staring gob smacked at something in front of
them in the sands of Mars.
was just standing there shaking his head slowly from side to side. They
were both looking down to the ground at what looked for every inch of
the universe, like a grave back on Earth. Except that it was a fresh
grave here on a red planet.
world turned upside down for the four astronauts at that moment. There
was even a marker with an inscription roughly written on it. Wolf leant
over and read it. It read......
‘Home is the hunter from over the hill and the sailor from over the sea.’
then followed the words, which told them who it was that was lying
there dead and buried in that shallow grave. These markings were also
hand inscribed on the marker at the grave’s head. Somebody had rammed
down it down there good and hard into the red soil and sand. It read
starkly, Commander Thomas Glenn the third, USN. Wolf was the first to
speak as soon as he took it all in.
‘It’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s own damn epitaph.’
uttered this to nobody in general and the great universe at large. But
he was talking to himself really. And then he continued,
have to know that Tom Glenn was a navy fly boy when he started off. I
met him one time in the USA you know. Maybe he liked Stevenson’s
writing. I know I do anyway.’
some reason Wolf suddenly had a thought of his only child. He was a man
child who was living in the USA. And his name was Arthur. The lad lived
there with his mother now in New England. Back home on Earth I mean.’
one else spoke for an eternity and Mars seemed a long, long way from
home for them all just now. The next thing Wolf knew was the voice of
Francois Diderot patching through to him so loud and so clear.
we have just established a brief contact with Earth chief and I’m told
by Jean Alois that it looks ok for a much stronger contact in about
thirty Sol hours or so. But he wasn’t all that confident I reckon so
add a few hour on maybe. Our contact was always dodgy chief and proved
to be brief. I wanted to patch you through immediately but the signal
finally gave up on us. In any case he really only had time to say that
Houston has finally admitted that the Liberty had suffered unspecified
problems I repeat unspecified chief.
also apologized for landing at our site but they said that there were
cogent reasons enough.... again nonspecific. Lastly, Jean wanted
to know if you had made contact with the Americans. I told him that was
a negative chief. He told me to hang on for the open window of contact
in something like twelve hours from now. Then all contact was lost I’m
Wolf answered Francois quickly but warily.....
a matter of fact Francois we have made a kind of contact with
them. We’ve found something very alarming at our end. Things have
shifted a little here now Francois. We believe that the American
Commander Tom Glenn is dead. We found a grave near the Liberty and I
will fill you both in with the details very shortly. Oh and Francois,
should Earth get back to you sooner than we thought they might, please
withhold all of what I just told you about Commander Glenn, ok.’
‘Yeah and I copy that too chief.’
Francois had some curiosity in his voice but said nothing more and they ceased contact for the time being.
next did the natural thing and had Nando and Brigette accompany him up
the moving escalator. The three of them carefully passed through
the useless airlock into the American craft to inspect it. They were
all breathing a little hard into their air supplied helmets by now.
were running a little high perhaps and no wonder. Wolf had a second
thought for a bit just why he had ordered Francois to withhold the news
of the dead commander. It had been his gut reaction, but he soon
dismissed his concerns. He was forced to move on quickly now. All they
saw only made so much nonsense.
airlock was useless to all intents and purposes.... simply because as
Wolf had previously noted, the ship was already at Martian atmosphere.
he entered the ship again Wolf keenly studied the craft’s hull most
closely but in no way could he identify the metals used here.
had left Helmut posted on guard at the foot of the Liberty’s elevator
as a precaution, while they ascended it. Wolf was particularly keen to
have Brigette see over the ship as their number one pilot. And was this
a simple act of espionage then? Of course it was but then you knew that
fact that the Liberty was no longer at Earth atmosphere created a lot
of speculation among the astronauts straight away. Nando whistled quite
loudly when he first stepped inside the Liberty. It was the sheer scale
of the thing that got to you first. After there own rather humble
craft, it was a giant.
wandered around the flight cabin space with much curiosity and
proceeded to take out a small electronic notebook in order to take some
notes as she studied the controls, which seemed to fascinate her so
much. Wolf let her alone knowing that she would take in far more than
was not so much the size, or the apparent comfort of the Liberty that
got right up her nose a little. It was the sheer supply of advanced
technologies that she was witnessing.
They were using things right out of Star Trek in here muttered Brigette. To Wolf she added....
‘The ship’s on stand by power chief.’
main item for her was the ‘PCR technology’ she noted in use in this
ship. And the fact that quite a lot of the mutedly shining control
lights seemed to have something to do with the NASA moon base. Of
course this was the take off point for the liberty’s mission.
stood for ‘Personality Recognition Computers’. Their job was relatively
simple yet also most profound. They translated the user’s personal
traits into something like actuality. It could also easily read this
unique human’s skills and reaction times into what actually happened
when controls were touched. These were the sons of the fighter jet
pilot’s joysticks of the early 2000’s, which enabled the plane to jink
and weave in tandem with the pilot’s actual wishes and touches.
definitely gave deeper meaning to intuition’s responses in a very fast
fighter plane. And it also enabled faster reactions and potentially
more exact decision making. In a craft such as the Liberty it had far
more ramifications than with a smallish but very quick jet fighter in
combat in Earth’s atmosphere.
space therefore it’s limitations were almost unbounded but were often
only used with the utmost care. It was sometimes called ‘black hole’
stuff as it was not always understood what the outcomes might be after
using this technology in deep space.
were in fact several levels of this PRC usage and some of the more
extreme levels had to be keyed in by the commander himself as a safety
factor. You had to take into account the intuition factor and the
implications therein. These controls would alter with each user by a
combination of sensing their particular nerve ends and reading the
irises of their eyes. This was a natural extension of quite widespread
and almost ancient technology which had once been used in security
of these devices had been around since the late 1970’s period. All of
this then was designed to enhance the high level of the work of the
Liberty’s crew. But not surprisingly, after having just witnessed that
godforsaken and shallow grave down below them, Brigette soon got to
wondering about whether or not they would ever see any of the Liberty’s
of them knew that were other levels above them. There would be living
quarters and also a take off and landing seating area for starters. But
Wolf signaled them not to even consider exploring any higher in the
ship. For time was once again against them now.
above they thought that they might be able to feel rather than hear a
slight whirring or humming noise. Brigette and Wolf had both heard the
sound and they put it down to the mechanism of the moving elevator.
seemed to be coming from some source above their heads on one of the
other levels of the craft. Instead of roaming further Wolf concentrated
on what his best pilot might discover right here and now. She was there
best hope right now.
was of the essence and he figured that they could give her about twenty
five minutes to go over the ship while he contacted the Cyclops and he
spoke at some length to Barbara. He broke the news of the death of Tom
Glenn to her and they talked of the possible meaning and import of it
all for a while. But nothing was at all clear.
Wolf managed to find the off switch for the elevator near the entrance
hatch and he boldly experimented switching it off and then back on
again. He could not figure how you could turn it off before went down
again though. From the Cyclops came the news that no further contact
had been made with Earth and it seemed unlikely that this would change
for some few hours to come either.
consulted his watch next and then prepared to move out to the elevator
after informing Helmut down below them. The discovery of the grave and
their inspection of the Liberty had taken a bit longer than Wolf had
below them while he had been waiting, Helmut had already discovered the
way to operate the elevator from the floor of Mar’s red rock and soil
while he was waiting there. He passed this info on to his commander
after hearing Wolf’s queries about the machine and then the astronauts
exited the seemingly abandoned spacecraft named the Liberty.
before Wolf got into the Rover, he asked the others to wait up a
little. Without saying another word, the commander walked solely back
towards what just might be the only grave of a human on the planet.
They watched him standing there some three metres from the shallow
grave. Then they saw him salute, then pause again for he turned to come
back to them.
commander was facing towards the gross figure of Mons Olypmus now. They
could all of them feel it’s mighty power and influence as the mountain
looked down on them. It had changed to indigo colours with combinations
of tawny and purple shadings. This was against all of the background of
Mars red and flamingo pink colours.
this a sad place to die then thought Wolf? Or is it just the way I’m
thinking right at this bloody moment? Anyplace is I suppose.... was his
next thought. He said quietly...‘Insha Allah.’
said this quietly to himself but in truth he was not all sure if God
would will a man to die a few months after being among the first humans
to set foot on another planet. But it had happened to Cook, Scott and
to Magellan in what you might call a kind of parallel world.
naturally enough he was not spared the thought of wondering what it was
that had killed the amiable NASA commander either. The
Commander turned on his heels and slowly made his way back to the small
group by the Martian Rover. They tested the other rover and it started
quickly enough and after some consideration Wolf decided to
commandeer the vehicle. Wolf told them all that he would take the
machine. He said....
have to return to the lander pronto now before dusk settles in. The
night will start closing down on us in something like an hour and a
told this to the three astronauts quickly. This time Wolf was chiefly
concerned about the freezing conditions, which would descend upon them
on these plains as the shadows lengthened.
survival suits had limits down to something like -48 to -53 degrees
below after all, and it would definitely go down lower than that after
dusk shaded down on them all here.
will certainly take us at least an hour just to get back to the Ithica
through the rough terrain across to the Ithica. And then we still have
to make the eight or ten minute trip back to the lander from there as
well. The storm might have abated alright but we sure hell don’t want
to be seeing Phoebus or Deimos up there and freezing our naturals off.’
pointed upwards as he spoke..... ‘I think that we need to regroup for a
while; see if Earth can talk to us again and plan our next move folks.
We have a hell of a lot of questions to to ask them.’
would have covered the extremely rough terrain between the Liberty and
the Ithica in the two in a lot less time if the accident hadn’t
occurred. And what followed that accident was another blow to them all.
Brigette was driving the first Martian Rover and Wolf the second, when
a section of the narrow ravine’s bed gave way and brought the first
Rover to an abrupt halt.
could by no means manage to go forward now, so they had sent Nando back
find the second Rover to inform Wolf of the situation.
he was absent Brigette suggested that they might attempt to dig their
way out and push on forward but in the end they waited for his
returned in a relatively short time but he came stumbling to them at an
awkward run in a state of near panic. His voice was hoarse as he also
stumbled over his words as they looked at Nando with incomprehension.
reckon that.....I’ve found another one chief...it’s.’ He meant another
American astronaut. ‘It’s horrible.....It’s just lying out there, down
in the dust’
waited a few moments for Nando to calm himself and then asked him to
take him back there. After taking a swift look at his watch, Wolf
gathered in Nando and together they trudged some seventyty metres back
down the ravine.
soon took a right hand turn down another slightly larger ravine or
arroyo. Wolf noted that it would be possible to turn the Rover at this
junction as they moved on some further distance. Not so far along this
arroyo they both spotted it simultaneously.
Wolf saw did him not a lot of good either for before them was an almost
completely mummified and desiccated corpse of a human. The posture was
slight crouch as if he was an Earth marsh man in some Southern English
there was no swamp here and not a drop of water to be found. The body
looked leather like, lying there in the Martian dust complete with the
twisting ricture of the crossbones grin of our childish games and
drawings. Significantly he could see no wounds or abrasions on the
mummified corpse at all.
bent down to the corpse and looked closely at the upper part of the
body. No colours now showed in this man’s once bright survival suit.
Instead it had been suffused with the rusts of Mars iron like hues.
upon the upper right hand corner of the drawn torso he could still make
out Earthly insignia on it. Wolf with some difficulty read the markings
as Lt Perry Crosswhite US Marine Corps. Nando and Wolf looked at each
other but neither man spoke. What was there to say after all now? First
they had found the Yankee commander and now his top man Lt Perry
Crosswhite in this, his terrible last pose in life. It was just
Were all the Americans dead then? Had one of the Liberty’s crew run amok? What had happened here for God’s sake?
now it seemed that were only four of the NASA crew left in fact. But as
yet there were simply no answers yet to these primary questions. All
they had to go on was this second corpse. The awful mummy of Lt
Crosswhite’s corpse was framed by the grey and red dust instead of the
grimy mud of some fenland.
turned and rejoined the others back at the two Rovers with all speed
possible for dear old Sol’s shadows grew longer now. They recovered the
first rover by shunting it forward with the American machine. And near
enough to an hour later, the astronauts were quite relieved to arrive
back at the lander.
were all dog tired and not just a little bit emotional as they filled
their two comrades Francois and Barbara on the day’s chaotic events.
Barbara in particular was most upset, for she and Wolf had discussed
the all too pleasant meeting of Tom Glenn and Wolf at some length not
all that long ago. But in the end there was nothing left to do but to
settle in for another long night’s sleep and vigil.
now was wearing on them but only sleep could obliterate their worries.
They were all safe enough here for the moment. They had plenty of
oxygen and all the necessary supplies they required for now, but they
would not have been human if they hadn’t considered going back up to
their waiting ship above them were they could really feel safe.
was a real and present danger to that line of action though. For they
had to manufacture more fuel at the factory craft the Ithica before
they even could think of attempting the return to Earth.
Ithica was another problem as well, for they hadn’t even had time to
inspect the damn thing had they? Was it intact and was everything
functioning as it should inside the craft? So it was imperative
that they inspect it on the morrow. Nothing else would do.
Wolf was writing up his log Nando was doing a bit of star tracking in
the astrogazer. Helmut was already fast asleep and snoring gently.
Barbara happened to notice Francois go aft to the storage room. Shortly
after he had gone Brigette also slipped away to the storage room.
only another woman would have been completely aware of this movement
but in any case the tired Barbara could only wish the lovers well. For
of all times maybe this was no time to begrudge another human
consolation in any form.
Chapter Fourteen. The Lovely and dangerous Island of Ithica
had not changed Wolf Kandihar’s mind that the Ithica must be explored
this very day. The only real kick off question was to decide how many
of the crew should he take with him? He finally decided to take four
with him and leave only Nando at the lander. He reckoned that they
might need many minds to properly survey the mother lode craft.
necessary, they might even need another weapon too. God but I hope it
won’t come to that anything like that though, he thought. This was all
such a harrying and bloody shame. Carrying weapons when they should
have carrying out experiments and roaming the plains in the Martian
rover under the shadow of fantastic Mons Olympus.
was a tight squeeze to get the five of them aboard the one Rover but
Wolf had decided to leave the American’s Rover at the lander. Francois
kind of clung on to the back of the frame rather precariously for the
duration of the short journey to the Ithica but it was only a short
trip and they made it safely.
the original tale of the Odyssey Ithica was of course Ulysses’ home
island. His wife Penelope had to pine away the missing years of the
classical hero’s absence. Ulysses had often enjoyed the company of
other women during the many years of his perilous voyages in the Pre
Hellenic Agean and Mediterranean seas; but poor Penelope was born to
weep. In her husband’s absence of many years she was left alone to
wonder where her man was every day of her life.
what’s more her problems were made all the worse by many dangerous
suitors. None of who cared two Ithican figs about the welfare of her
long missing husband. Or rather they took good care that he did not
arrive back at his palace on Ithica unawares, for their eyes were not
solely on his wife, but on his tiny kingdom as well. In fact Ulysses
was able to sneak able to sneak under these vile suitors radars and to
has been mentioned the Ithica was designed to be the factory ship for
this voyage and perhaps for the other expeditions to follow it too.
It’s main function was to produce more fuel from the basic Martian
elements and also to manufacture more oxygen from the abundant supply
of dwarf wheat plants that she had aboard her.
so it was in the astronauts eyes not only the symbol of their ability
to survive it was far more than that. It was in fact, there only hope
for survival and no mistaking the fact. Brigette couldn’t help herself
in her surprise.
Radium!’ Was all she said as she pointed out the shining phenomenon up
on high. It was in fact a very bright meteorite shower that had caused
this cry. It must have been quite close to them too for them to see it
in the Martian half-light of day. Dr Barbara had spotted it first. She
had been facing towards the rear of the Rover and consequently had the
rearing sight of Mons Olympus smiting her eyes when she saw the
brilliant daylight display of objects from space penetrating the thin
atmosphere of Mars.
had brought the Rover to a screeching halt and they all watched the
brief and vibrant shower puncturing the thin Martian atmosphere from
outer space. Against towering Mons and amid the vivid indigoes along
the rims of the red horizon the meteorite shower glittered with a
slivery radiance never to be forgotten. They then drove on again in a
sobering silence towards the Ithica and the portable building with the
stockade that surrounded it.
at the Ithica Wolf already knew that he had two choices of a means of
entry. It looked like a smoothly sided hexagon crafted out of one of
the new alloys which undoubtedly incorporated the amazing Dordick
principle nano tube technology. Rocket ships duly patched up while you
wait for less than a second for you.
ship was sitting directly on the surface of Mars because the base of
the craft had been carefully designed to absorb any small impact that
might occur as it came to rest on the surface. And the Ithica upon
landing would have been automatically locked onto the Martian bedrock
below much the same as their own lander had been.
was not envisioned by her designers that the Ithica would ever be
required to lift off Mars so it was now to be considered as a more or
less permanent fixture on the planet. As has been already stated, the
Ithica’s job might not be finished in supplying just the Argo’s
crew. Others would come after them as well. But all that was in the lap
of the uncertain Gods for now.
they had already entered the portable in their first foray Wolf
discounted the door to the short tunnel which led into the Mars bound
craft. He couldn’t be certain whether it was locked or not in any case.
was a direct door at the other side of the mother lode craft and the
five astronauts headed for it directly. There was of course no lock on
this outer door only a seal which led into the Ithica’s airlock.
definitely expected the Ithica to be at a breathable Earth atmosphere
when they stepped inside. Brigette pointed out some loose soil
near the sealed door and they all reckoned that some of the Martian
dust and rock had been scraped away to enable the Americans to drag the
various pieces of the portable into position.
as they knew that the airlock would only accommodate three of them only
Barbara and Francois joined Wolf in stepping through and closing the
seal on the outer door while Helmut and Brigette remained on guard
outside the craft.
weapons were at the ready once again, but it something that they could
not use their weapons on that surprised them most. The Ithica was not
at earth atmosphere at all.
inside the Ithica the three astronauts were naturally very careful to
close the outside airlock hatch. It had struck them immediately though
that the Ithica wasn’t at an earth atmosphere when it should have been.
This really rocked them greatly for it was one of the bedrock
principles of their whole expedition’s putative success that the
oxygenizing process would have been in place when they arrived at the
it meant of course was that the Yanks had been downright
careless. There were these few signs of stress to hand here.
Somehow or other they had deactivated the main oxygen production. The
computer which operated the valves seemed to be in sleep mode. These
were valves designed to regulate air supply from the upper cambers
where the bio atmosphere was set up.
all moved on up to the bio atmosphere area on the next floor. Wolf
meant to look at the great store of dwarf wheat plants, which should be
ready in all kinds of stages of growth and to be busily pumping oxygen
into the Ithica’s enclosed atmosphere. This then had to be their prime
objective. To find out what was out of order and to correct it. In
truth, they had already conceded in their minds that ‘correcting’ this
fundamental process might just already be an improbable task. They had
to be aware of the slight bounce in their step in confined spaces as
they climbed up the stairwell. The extra bounce was due to the lighter
than Earth atmosphere here.
it was a very nervous trio then that stepped into the bio-atmosphere
room above the main control station. The first thing that confronted
them all was that is was plain to see that the dwarf wheat plants
flourished amazingly well. This in itself was massive news to them.
This end of the system was in fine condition. Everything here seemed
fine and dandy to the naked eye.
upon row of green and tawny sheaves of re wheat grew in abundance from
floor to the roof in the myriad rows of deep shelves with the in-built
watering system and the heating systems all in place. From floor to
roof these plants stood in their beds in serried rows potentially
giving off life to humans every day and every hour. It was a moving
enough sight alright.
these plants looked just so damn healthy too. Water was just quietly
and efficiently dripping over them and a fake Sol was up there near the
roof glowing down. This creator of artificial sunlight was so healthily
shining down upon the non waving wheat heads below it. It was Oklahoma
in springtime right here on Mars, Ok?
total, this vast interior crop might represent something like 400,000
individual stalks or sheaves of dwarf wheat. So there wasn’t any
problem in the oxygen supply here at all. Again she was forced to
wonder at what had happened. Somehow through panic or oversight ythr
valves had been locked into sleep mode. All they had to do was to open
the valves again. So they knew that they would have breathable air in a
couple of hours when the repairs had been made to the portable
buildings.. That was one good break for the team at last.
once again was another bloody mystery and they were thoroughly sick of
mysteries by now. But for the now there was nothing to do but to return
to the lander and prepare to do the necessary repairs to the portable
on the morrow.
though Wolf was determined to explore the American spacecraft more
thoroughly at another time he had decided by now to use at least three
of the crew to set about repairing the portable building back at the
Ithica complex as soon as possible. But there wasn’t time to return and
start the job that afternoon, so they all rather reluctantly prepared
to settle into the lander once for another night.
they settled in for the evening, Francois and Nando did a small
walkabout in order to gather rock samples while the rest of the crew
loaded one of the Rovers with the gear that they would need to repair
the walls of the portable. When this was completed they meant to move
into the living quarters directly. There was no earthly reason why they
shouldn’t was there? There was still no contact with Earth either but
no news for our Martian explorers was not really good news at this
night past uneventfully even though another smaller dust storm gathered
some force during the night. It blew itself out towards morning and as
soon as they had it gathered their wits about them they all left in the
two fully laden Rovers for the Ithica complex once more.
is all excepting for Barbara who was designated to guard the lander
this time. She would also be ready to receive any possible Earth
contact. This was beginning to bother all of them by now for they
certainly felt that NASA must forward some genuine info on the
situation soon. What indeed in the hell were they waiting for?
arrival Wolf had not bothered to order one of the crew to stand at the
ready to guard them while they laboured at the repairs to the portables
walls. Francois pulled him up for this and got his weapon out of the
Rover and said in a slightly excited voice that he didn’t much like the
idea of a warrior robot on the loose.
began to silently dispute the facts about this in his mind but finally
didn’t argue the toss about the matter and let Francois stand guard by
the fence. When it came down to tintacks Francois might be in the right
of it too. The boy scouts motto might be the right idea here so it was
probably better to be prepared. Wolf closed the air lock leading to the
portables and switched the computer controlled valves, which would set
the air supply up in the Ithica. When the repairs were done to the
portable the air lock would be opened once again.
began to get down to working at repairing the portable walls. They
actually found more sections of the walls in the Ithica and began to
replace the unfinished parts and the damaged sections with new ones. It
wasn’t rocket science and again it was still a huge mystery to them
all. For naturally it made them all wonder again just why the Yanks had
left it in that way in the first place.
swapped sentry duties with Francois on the hour and he took his place
in the hard working repair gang. Wolf worked as hard as anybody there
but it was Nando whose experience turned him into a natural foreman on
they had already guessed the curving roof sections of the portable were
totally intact and properly in place. No rivets were required at all
here, for cleverly made clips locked the sections into place and it was
quite an easy task to complete the repairs. Whistle while you work and
they got on fine with the job. There was really only one tricky bit
where they had to improvise a bridging support where the original piece
had mysteriously been badly twisted out of shape. Had somebody forced
their way in here, or had it merely twisted as they were putting it up?
Nando got to work quickly and mackled up a piece of aluminium and
titanium tubing into a near perfect fit for a replacement. A few rivets
were popped into this next section and although it was a fairly rough
job, it was finely in place in thirty five minutes flat. It really only
meant some two and a half hours work to make it airtight again.
this was done they all thought that they should now have a totally
sealed building. Robinson Crusoe’s cave was now almost ready for
occupation. No sounds or sightings were made by the posted sentries and
it was all quiet on the Ithican front.
they finally closed the gaps in the walls Nando returned t and
proceeded through the small tunnel leading from the Ithica to the
portable to check that the passage was clear. He turned on the lights
as he went and they saw that there were no problems at all in the entry
or egress. It was all go.
all retired into the Ithica for a breather where Wolf had switched on
the computer that controlled the valves for the atmosphere system. This
was the same computer that the Americans had seemed to so hopelessly
mishandle. They all waited for it to take effect while they sat there
in their safety suits, still breathing from their air tanks. It was
only a matter of minutes now to full air.
of them were watching the warning light, which would tell that it would
be ok to take off their helmets and suck in the recently recycled air
from the dwarf plants. As a further precaution their own safety suits
had inbuilt meter readings of the atmosphere beyond their suits and
from time to time the astronauts also glanced at them.
glance at this could tell them how compatible with humans the
atmosphere was and in some eighteen or twenty minutes both their suit
meters and the Ithica’s own machine told them to check again that the
airlocks were closed because the ship was now at full ‘space-life
did not have very long to wait. The system started to kick in very
quickly. This was not quite the same as Earth’s oxygen levels though.
For it was just a little higher on oxygen content and at a slightly
lower air pressure than at most places on Earth.
it was exactly the same composition as the Argo’s atmosphere and they
had all survived admirably on that for just under sixteen months. It
was in fact, the standard composition of deep space craft atmospheres
whenever they were to be found in deep space.
for the now it was mission almost accomplished. They took off their
helmets with smiles all round. They could now settle into the complex
at last if they wished. Later on they would open the air lock to the
portables and that too could be employed. And Wolf knew only too well
that he would soon have to lead the team back to the Liberty once
were the whole top level sections of the giant spacecraft that they
hadn’t seen as yet. So it seemed quite logical that the pointy end of
the Liberty was next item on his log book of action. He was the first
to take off his helmet after taking the readings of the oxygen levels.
They all relaxed a little now for the first time in their sorely
troubled days upon the red planet
Then Wolf talked to Barbara back at the lander....
‘ He told her that they were breathing air in the Ithica.
he said to her... 'I think that it is time that we all settled
into the Ithica Babs. We can’t run scared all the time. We’re just
about to check out the portable’s atmosphere now too. We will pick you
up in some twenty five minutes. Don’t worry about bringing any heavy
gear. We’ll do that another time. Just make sure that you take the
Earth contact codes with you and be sure to remember to switch the
roving reception over so we can receive Earth signals from over here.
Talking about that Barbara, has there been any contact from Jean yet?’
The answer to that was a negative and she was going to be more than ready to see him soon.
‘I’ll be damn happy to join you all again chief.’ It fair gives me the creeps to be alone here Wolf, and no mistake.’
and Helmut took a Rover to pick her up having been assured by Nando
that the living quarters were now fully at Earth atmosphere and all
readings were good They all hunkered down quite comfortably breathing
the sweet air in the living quarters of the portable for that night.
They were glad of the extra living space of the superbly designed
quarters and reveled in the temporary normality it brought them.
best of all there soon came ‘blessed sleep which knits up the raveled
sleeve of care’ to them all.’ In the morning they all breakfasted well.
Then they kitted up, knowing that they would have to keep their
protective air suits during the journey out to the American ship.
stayed behind to keep an eye on things that they had started up at the
Ithica. The rest of the team promptly set off in the Rover for the
return trip to the Liberty.
Chapter Fifteen. Some Electric Dreams
first thing they did upon their return to the American craft was to
post a guard again outside. The second thing that became readily
apparent to them upon entering the ship again was the sense of
confusion that had been here some time ago. Barbara bent down low to
pick up a clipboard type of set of instructions that had been seemingly
ripped from it’s connector to the desktop. Other clipboards were also
scattered about the area.
She looked up at Wolf meaningfully. The look did not go unheeded either.
is just standard spacecraft operation to have these plastic layered
instruction boards dangling from various machines or lying across the
desktops. They were lightly chained or otherwise contained to stop them
floating around far in zero gravity conditions and so they would ever
be to hand of course. And most of all they represented order inside a
spacecraft. But not in this particular ship it wasn’t.
mere mortal human being could possibly remember all the sequences of
events that must perforce take place in every operational maneuver in
space. These boards were their really only backup and standard
safeguards. These instructions were so boringly normal to Barbara for
instance, that they were in fact sacrosanct to her. It was exactly the
same for every astronaut who ever floated down a tunnel in space. They
were there for their safety and the whole ship’s safety too.
were other materials spread about in confusion too and some wiring
seemed to have been tugged loose from it’s sockets. Somebody or
something had panicked in this craft it seemed. It was a sight to shock
the most hardened spacer. Several red lights above the astronaut’s
heads were blinking some kind of rather ominous warnings to them.
‘Shit, so do you know what all this means then chief?’
Instead he simply shook his head and pointed a finger towards the stairwell in front of them.
‘Up you go Francois and let’s see what gives up there.’
moved up a stairwell which finally led them to the entrance to what
seemed to be a long vertical tunnel. Wolf shone a torch up this massive
shaft but the beam couldn’t find an end to the blackness. There was no
light at all in here and he decided to retreat back from what seemed to
be the tunnel containing the ship’s drive. In old-fashioned terms it
was the engine room of the craft. Wolf turned and led them back down to
the main control room.
all investigated the disturbed control room with a greater intensity.
On the way back they all noticed a robotic arm, which presumably was
designed to lift material around and perhaps out of the ship. Wolf had
more than an idle thought or two about robots in general and some in
particular, but he dutifully kept his almost wayward thoughts entirely
seemed to remember that the NASA Mars planning people had been at least
considering taking a robot along with them. But he wasn’t at all sure
was standing by a kind of frame or cage in the take off section of the
NASA craft. They had gone back to the American craft not without a lot
of misgivings. Even though they had traversed this rough terrain
several times now they were all very careful and extremely nervous
about handling the Mars Rover through the arroyos and the round the
huge boulders. Fortunately they did not come across poor Lt Perry
Crosswhite’s cruelly mummified corpse on this journey. In fact because
of their earlier confusions, they would not have been able to find it
without a considerable search.
thing that was at the centre of Francois’ attention stood at just a bit
smaller than an average man’s height. It was a kind of supportive cage
with padding inside it. It stood in the take off safety area to one
side of the astronaut’s chairs. These were the recliner type chairs
almost identical to the take off chairs provided for them on the Argo.
And Francois was very angry now and told his was so..
had perhaps made too many assumptions possibly and he was very fired up
indeed. As an engineer this structure interested Francois not a little.
This was a cage designed as a ‘take off support’. And it surely gave
one food for thought. It was most likely designed for the support of a
robot to use. Or could it merely be a cage as well?
robots had killed humans back on Earth from time to time. The first
known murders by robots had occurred about eight years before they had
blasted towards the Red Planet. It was of course an absolute sensation
at the time and to cap it all they happened in Lyons too.
was a domestic servant robot owned by the family of a Lyons
industrialist, which had gone berserk in their kitchen. The wayward
robot had slaughtered Madame Ducloc and her young son Guilliame in
their house. I can’t even bring myself to describe to you just what
this rogue robot did to them. It would not be fair to you.
all of Madame Ducloc’s neighbours in that case and some of the
murdered people’s relatives had told the press that Madame hadn’t even
wanted her husband to bring it home. Bloody idiot of a damn filthy rich
husband he was too they all reckoned. Yes and she had been scared to
death of the thing and there you go isn’t it?
would you believe the irony of it their bodies were discovered by their
maid Mme Adele who was on the verge of quitting when this whole thing
came to this sorry conclusion,
why naturally you wouldn’t believe the state of hysteria the French
press whipped the otherwise calm citizens of the Republic. Now would
you dear reader? And worst of all what was to be done about such
killings? Could you possibly commit a robot to trial? I don’t think so
my friend, for that would destroy any vestige of human individuality
and equality in the eyes of the law.
you kill the robots then? But you cannot kill a robot. Only destroy the
thing and what was the standard for it then? Even humans commonly kill
each other by accident and some of these events are just damn sad and
most unfortunate. They don’t rate a trial at all, just sympathy for the
surivors. It was of course a legal bloody nightmare and would continue
to be for a very long time.
had been followed by a spate of killings which weren’t of the type of
the man trapped by a car building robotic machine type in a factory,
which was relatively speaking a common enough event. But a real murder
as such and committed as the classics would have it; ‘with malice
aforethought.’ Or at least so the press would have it .Of course Iaasac
Asimov’s wise considerations deliberated on almost a hundred years ago
had once more come to the fore in countless articles and Newspaper
editorials willy nilly.
‘laws’ came into being in 1942 with his Three Laws of Robotics in his
story Runaround. Although before that, Asimov had already foreshadowed
these ideas a couple of years prior to Runaround.’ The state of flux of
morals and the practicalities of robotic relations with humans were
always going to be a problem and so it was at the European Space Agency
the old man Bonsoir wouldn’t have a bar of robots straight and simple.
That was his final word on the matter too. The new generations of
European space designers and engineers had puffed and huffed but old
Bonsoir finally got his way in this matter.
least he did on the first European mission to Mars. There was nothing
remotely like a robot aboard the Argo that is if you dismiss about a
hundred computers which could practically think like a human in any
case. But the NASA mission might have been tempted to
all studied the control room once more not quite knowing what it was
that they were looking for. Why the signs of chaos here then? Barbara
went over to a computer to see if would fire up and tell them
leaned her weapon against the console and studied the computer. They
had all known that there was power in here since Wolf had turned on the
light switch back in the portable building so it was certainly worth a
computer flickered as it began booting up. Barbara waited a moment or
two and then she punched in some brief commands. She was searching for
a back log of commands which might tell them something vital or at
least provide a clue to what had been happening here
were already warrior robots used by both Russia and The United States
in those times. In fact the Europeans had hung back on these things a
bit. Some of them were very nasty machines indeed. But it was just
conceivable that the Houston types had been convinced by the more
hawkish fellows from somewhere not too far from the pentagon to
warrior robot could be anything from a rather odd kind of rocket
carrying machine to a cross between a Humvee and a helicopter. Not that
they could have fit the latter types of robot warriors aboard the
in fact little else in particular could be deduced about the nature of
the robot or the emergency that had likely occurred to the Liberty. And
so it was still totally unclear to Wolf and to all of the Europeans as
to why Tom Glenn had changed course all the way back some nine months
really nothing would make sense of what could be found from the ship’s
computers. This would probably remain a mystery until they found the
rest of the Liberty’s crew alive or failing that, some record or
possibly an open admission from Houston as to what the bloody hell was
Wolf had holstered his weapon some time ago and now sat down and talked to Barbara when he went back up to the control room.
had also found that the Liberty had indeed landed on the date that
Earth had so wildly celebrated all those long months ago before Mars
had loomed large before them. But of the events following the landing,
no trace could be found and it seemed likely that either they had not
committed such things to the computer, or it could have been that they
decided to avoid using the damn computers altogether. And that brought
them back to Houston.
any case, Houston was not all that much help even when they said
anything out aloud. Of course the case of the ‘robot murders’ back of
Earth infamy of some few years ago, was lingering somewhere not all
that far from the front of all of their minds by now.
would certainly help them all thought the commander, if they knew
exactly what kind of robot NASA had loaded onto the Liberty with Tom
and his crew. But they were not all that much palpably further towards
the truth now than they had been when Wolf had first spotted that
shallow grave near the Liberty.
the wizards of Houston had providentially provided another instructive
sign for their edification. It was posted up over the ‘cage’. And
it read as follows.....
K7 robot takeoff and landing container...Keep locked.
small but sturdy snap lock on the frame was easily observable and gave
you the picture completely. Pointedly, the snap lock would not be able
to be undone from the inside.
it was obvious that there was indeed some kind of a robot among the
Liberty’s the compliment. That much was clear to them. Or at least so
it would seem. The next big question was what kind of robot was it? And
the other consideration was that the robot was missing too. Barbara
asked herself another question now. As she too was almost certain that
the robot was aboard she wondered how many astronauts had there been in
the Liberty anyway?
they gone with six with the extra robot as well as the full human
compliment then? Or had they lifted away with only the five astronauts
aboard her plus a robot? This was quite a fair question too, which she
eagerly shared with Wolf after they had inspected the take off zone.
first they went down to the main control room once again. Upon
examining the five or so protective air suits and their tanks they
found that none of them worked. That is to say there was no air supply
left in them at all.
‘What do you say Wolf, are we dealing with a rogue robot here perhaps?’
was not the kind of person to be unnecessarily imaginative and she was
almost certainly the calmest of the Argo’s crew. Sometimes she might
not be the bravest of souls but she inevitably tried to be a rational
one. Her question required a serious answer.
I don’t think so Babs for the main reason that robots are strictly
built accordingly to act on strict commands and within strict
boundaries. They are simply glorified computers with appendages to them
and nothing more. What’s more they do not despite extant literature,
easily conform to the infamous Frankenstein mould. Manufacturers and
designers of robots these days usually take Asimov’s Three Laws quite
seriously you know Barbara.’
‘Mmm, that’s hardly what Francois thinks Wolf.’
kind of casually pointed at Francois as she spoke for she thought that
she might well draw him into their conversation. But Francois who was
still quite nervously uneasy with the situation held his peace for the
now. He was also not at all keen to relax his hold on his weapon
either. His weapon actually banged into the side of a stanchion making
a ringing reverberation and made the astronauts give a sudden start.
turned around quickly but Francois merely grunted something in French
which they couldn’t quite catch. He was still tense and not a little
uncommunicative now. And he was still not impressed.
know it well enough Barbara and it worries me something terribly too I
can tell you but I can hardly order him to change his mind now can I?
And truly he may be right when after all is said and done. There must
be a possibility of that at least. But I just am not convinced of it
There was a few seconds pause after Wolf’s reply and then he continued.
the actual reality is that we haven’t seen a robot as yet have we? We
might well find one some time soon, but if you ask me, the odds are
that it will just have done it’s normal duty and was not likely the
cause of whatever catastrophes that he Americans experienced.’ Again he
stopped and he looked carefully at Barbara. He was probably seeing how
she was taking in his words.
pretty well only in science fiction that robots go berserk. Oh I know
there has been a couple of cases of rogue actions but how many robots
do you reckon there are back there Babs? I’m not sure either but I’d
say it would be in the hundreds of thousands almost. Or that’s my guess
anyway. So in fact the odds are very much against it in any case.’
Wolf now turned to the rest of the crew.
I reckon that we should do a radiation test here before we go any
further and by rights we should have done it long before this’.
several of the small counters built into their suits they quickly took
the background levels, but they were just fine and dandy. Wolf had
another idea just then.
there’s still one last place on the ship that we haven’t searched yet
as far as I can tell and that’s the sleeping and living quarters. Apart
from a few cargo holds and the engine quarters, that’s the last or
should I say the highest level as the ship now rests.’
‘What’s at the pointy end again anyhow Wolf?’
was Francois who was a trifle impatient to get on with their search.
Pointy end was just a figurative term for the top end of the craft was
not like a rocket of your imagination and it was not pointy at all. In
fact it was more like the shape say of an enormous hammerhead
appears to be a common room cum dining room and some sleeping quarters
Francois. It’s capable of being sealed off from the rest of the ship
too maybe by the looks of it.’
was Helmut speaking now as he readied himself to lead the way. He had
rummaged around until he had found a plan of the American ship. He was
now studying this carefully as he slowly walked towards Wolf. But
what’s more he had discovered something of even more interest to them
all. Another sheet was in his hands.
was the ship’s manifest. It detailed the number, the names and the
ranks of the Liberty’s crew. He handed it to Wolf straight away, for
rightly he understood that it would be of vital interest to his
commander. As soon as the commander laid his eyes on the manifest he
whistled right out aloud. Wolf and Barbara were standing quite close to
‘Good gravy I know him well Barbara.’
Barbara came closer to Wolf. She seemed both amazed and somehow sorely touched at what he had just uttered.
‘Who do you know Wolf, who do you know?’
it says here, Samuel Fuller USM age 42, and it’s the third name on the
list after poor Tom Glenn and Lt. Perry Crosswhite. Sam.... Sam Fuller,
why we worked together....I....
Wolf tailed off, temporarily unable to continue.
‘What is it Wolf?’
The commander looked at Barbara as if she might go away or perhaps if she might not believe what he was saying.
Sam Fuller worked aboard the Nova Mir many years ago when we were both
very young astronauts. He was often called the poet of space. I
remember. I really liked his poetry too Babs.’
poems were damn well good. And he was finally expelled from Nova Mir
after the Second Cold War had broken out over those two breakaway
Caucasian republics. Or were there three Republics? I forget!’
Wolf suddenly remembered that he was speaking in the past tense about the American.
‘I mean.....he mightn’t be dead after all might he then Babs?’
She just shook her head for right at this moment she could not rightly think of any words to say to him.
then went on to explain that he had been detailed by Bonsoir to go up
to the Earth circling space station, Nova Mir in 2029. He had stayed in
the new joint venture but Russian invented space station for three
months as a guest worker. As they all knew, Nova Mir had replaced the
original Mir some years prior to that.
all the time that Wolf had been aboard Nova Mir, Sam Fuller had been
there. He had already been aboard the Nova Mir for two months when Wolf
had arrived there. Sam Fuller, Virginian, poet and astronaut and father
had been his fellow worker. They had done complicated astral navigation
courses and studies together. They had played chess and Wolf had read
dozens of Sam’s poems both published and unpublished and they had
perforce become true friends.
both had sons of an age and they were both huge lovers of literature.
In particular, both of these men loved the writing of the early
Nineteenth Century philosopher Henry Thoreau, born and died in Concord,
Mass. In fact Wolf even knew his date of birth. Both of them
practically drooled over his dreamlike and amazing work of ‘Walden’ in
so it was only natural that they would have clicked, and they had
certainly done so. This was truly another weird turn of events so far
from Earth. Taking there signals from Barbara, the others gave time for
their commander to gather his composure before they had to move on
higher up the ship.
sat there with her legs crossed and she was running her eye down the
list held by Wolf. The next name on the liberty’s manifest was a Dr.
Terri Morgan age 33, which made her the fourth crewmember of the
Liberty and she was followed by one Hans Bonhoffer age 40. Strange
thought Barbara and I know I have never met this person but the name
just sounds so familiar.
there was a sixth human name on the manifest. It was a June Carley age
27. Quite a young too to be selected for a job like this mused Barbara
to herself. It’s just possible I suppose that she was comparing her own
rather more advanced age with young Ms Carley as well. There were also
mug shots to identify each of the astronauts as well.
was still studying the plan of the Liberty and by now and he reckoned
that he could navigate around the whole of the Liberty with some
confidence by now. The ship was truly a bloody awesome giant. Barbara
looked at Wolf and he nodded his head.
decided that they should stick together and they all started towards a
kind of shaft, which led to the upper level via a cunningly designed
set of rungs, or perhaps it might be better called a stairwell. Now
Helmut was out in front of the others as they climbed.
could find no switches to light their way, so they found themselves
climbing only seeing and feeling their way lit by two hand held
torches. Maybe the lights were lit by voice recognition or perhaps they
just couldn’t see where they were. Once again, they were reminded that
the ship seemed to be on standby power and that must have some kind of
But really when all was said and done all it did was to deepen the mystery.
were passing through into a kind of long and narrow tubing of a
passageway, which went directly upwards. Just as the party moved off,
Wolf checked in with Nando back at the Ithica to apprise him of what
they were up to at the moment. He told him that they planned to return
in just over an half and a half, which he figured would give them
another half hour in the American ship. God willing that is.
were now climbing in the dark with just that faint lift or bounce that
the Mar’s atmosphere will give you. Every now and then a reverberating
clang would shiver through the quavering darkness as somebody’s
metallic heels met a rung clumsily. They climbed in a single line and
both Helmut and Brigette carried the torches which partly lit their way
bouncing and arcing light from side to side of the dark tunneling as
they ascended the Liberty.
area they were moving in was a covered passageway between the highly
sophisticated nuclear fusion engines that created the force that
managed to hurtle this giant American craft across a small section of
the cosmos. It was perhaps the mother of all engines to date in human
ascendance seemed to take forever to Barbara but finally they came to
end of the long passage upwards. Every now and then small grunts and
groans would come from the astronauts as they misjudged their footing
or simply hauled their bodies upwards. It was a little bit like
climbing up some rock stack in a giant and extremely dark cavern.
contacted Wolf who was two places ahead of her in the long climb.
Naturally most astronauts are familiar with claustrophobic places. They
spend so many of their days in tight places amidst the backdrop of the
vasty emptiness of deep space. Faint hearts do not last too long there.
But this was quite different. They were in an unknown ship. In fact
they were in an unknown and foreign ship and they weren’t here under
their own terms.
I think I can hear a dull sound like some vibrations from a machine
somewhere within the hull. The damn thing wouldn’t take off on us would
Wolf answered her very quickly for it was plain that most of the party might be thinking something along these lines.
up a little there Brigette, I can hear the sound fairly distinctly too
mate. You have to remember that we reckon that the craft’s on standby
power and I reckon that it’s the same sound that we heard when we were
here before Brigette, so I think it’s cool for us to be in here now.’
Wolf’s assurances calmed Brigette or not, the climb was full of the
feeling of a black void around them though there was no danger of
falling at all. For in fact their bodies were at least partly shielded
in suitable protective oval shaped rungs of some metallic tubing, which
followed the stairwell all the way up.
was still a dizzying ascent though. However at the top of the
climb, their way was blocked by a very large and a very strong looking
sliding door. It was locked and they could go no further.
studied this door for a long time but could not figure it out. Then
Wolf sidled past him in a tight squeeze up the last rungs to study the
device. For to one side of the door was some kind of device which might
have been a complicated lock. There was an Omega sign on it, which
stood out in an embossed kind of way from the rest of the dark metallic
LED lights or any numbers at all showed on the door. Neither was there
a handle, a visible lock or catch or any other markings or calibrations
at all. They attempted to press the sign and they tried to slide it
each and every way. But nada happened. And they clapped their hands and
said words aloud which certainly included some swear words. It was
still no go.
in fact the Omega sign was all they could make nothing at all from it
even though it was the only thing that that could signify. But
recognizing it did not get them anywhere. It could have been controlled
by voice recognition. Or maybe it was by an electronic lock. Perhaps it
might be an iris recognition device. But it whatever it was, it
defeated all of them in the end. There were no levers and certainly no
handle the door. It seemed like no lock that they had ever seen before.
The only thing that they could do was retreat back down the dark tunnel
from whence they had come.
Chapter 16. We Are Explorers Not Bloody Marines
Rover had been brought skidding to a halt at the shocking sounds of
gunfire. Francois, Brigette and Wolf who was the driver, were in the
leading Rover while Helmut and Barbara were in the second one. Helmut
drove the second Rover and was following them in the same arroyo at
about a hundred metres distance. Blazing and flaming brimstone thought
Brigette, gunfire on Mars for God’s sake we are bloody well under fire
and I just can’t believe it.
was quick enough to react, but a huge spray of dust and rock splinters
burst over the Rover as the top of the arroyo was partially torn away.
The burst temporarily blinded him, causing the vehicle to screech to a
halt into the side of the arroyo. Something careered off the side of
the vehicle pinging with that terrible whine of a ricocheting bullet.
Francois had tumbled out of the vehicle when it came to a sudden halt
and he seemed to be injured.
knew that they were only some two hundred to two hundred and fifty
metres from the American ship. The firepower came from precisely that
direction and seemed much heavier than say normal heavy rifle fire.
They saw great arcs of what seemed like old-fashioned tracer fire came
racing over the top of the arroyo at them. When they struck into the
Martian hillsides they made a whuck, whuck, sound such as none of them
had ever heard before. Whuck and whuck again came the noise at them
after the sound of the shots being released.
Rover had crumpled ever so slightly on impact but Wolf was still at the
wheel with Brigette still seated beside him. She was already unloosing
and locking her weapon into the fire position while Wolf half stepped,
half tumbled out of out the vehicle.
‘Hey get down behind the damn lip of the rampart Brigette.’
was Francois lying on the ground He was shouting at Brigette who had
leaped out of the vehicle and looked as though she might just attempt a
Rambo action any moment and tear forward up the arroyo. Wolf cold see
her clearly now as her weapon was swung up at a firing height. The
bloody woman was standing upright with her two feet firmly placed in
the red dust of Mars and she was trying to find their attacker as she
began to scramble upwards. She fired a blazing series of rounds from
her Zendron and the light from them almost seemed to light the sky for
a moment but Wolf had no way of telling whether or not Brigette had
even seen their attacker from her position. Wolf simply pointed his
hand downwards to that same dust signaling to her to stop being a
bloody fool and obey Francois immediately.
she did go to earth but only for a few moments. When another whuck of a
sound came all too near his own head, Wolf buried his body down into
the softer bottoms of the gulch. He could see nothing for a while. ‘Eat
dirt’ had a new ring to his unprepared mind now.
he had not have had on his helmet, that’s exactly what he would be
doing right now. He also didn’t have a clue where his hand weapon was.
Maybe it had been tossed onto the floor of the Rover when they
screeched to a stop and ban into the side of the arroyo.
was having his own difficulties now as he seemed to be nursing what
might be a busted knee. Wolf called out to him and then crawled towards
the injured man. He waved to Wolf that he was doing fine all the same.
They all froze and time stood still. They waited there spread-eagled
out on the floor of the gulch; hardly daring to breathe now. Wolf began
to work on the idea of reversing the Rover out of there.
he couldn’t help but wondering where Helmult was in the second Rover.
They were in real trouble and no getting away from that but they were
all still alive. But before he went to the Rover he figured that like
Brigette he should try to get a look at their attacker, and inched his
way up the sides of the gulch with extreme caution
fire stopped suddenly as if there had only been the one person firing.
It was a truly puzzling. Wolf was already thinking that one aggressor
might mean ‘robot’ but that thought shot through his brain at a great
speed. It was difficult to realize just how many minutes had passed
since they had first heard the shots. Then the firing ceased as
suddenly as it had begun. There was nada for the moment and all was
quiet. It seemed like hours of rigid silence to the three astronauts
the brief lull, Brigette worked herself up into a safer viewing zone at
the lip of the arroyo and peered out towards the Liberty between two
low rocks. While she was doing this, Wolf decided to slowly inch his
way back down to the Rover. The rough walls of the arroyo stood at some
three times Wolf’s height and as he half rose he tripped and fell all
the time rolling all the way down to the floor of the gulch in a small
explosion of red dust and debris.
recovered quickly just as Brigette was signaling him something from the
wall of the arroyo. But he learned nothing of Brigette’s frantic
warnings for at moment he saw the figures of Helmut and Barbara come
creeping down the floor of the arroyo. At the same moment Brigette
continued to sneak up the side of the slope again with her Zendron
being arm crawled along under her breast in the tried and true marine
more there came the terrible sounds of whuck, whuck as the missiles
tore into the sides of the arroyo just over their heads. Once again
Brigette’s actions in going back up the slope against the terrible tide
of metal were either very brave or foolhardy, depending on your point
of view. Either way you would like her on your side..
‘Robot chief....bloody robot.’
And then out of breath, she had to stop speaking altogether. She started up once again,
guys..... err it’s a damn warrior robot chief. I’m sure I saw the
bastard this time and I think I got it in my digi-viewer too.’
panted these few words out to Francois and Wolf as as she loosed off
more rounds from the Zendron. Now she was holding up a digi-viewer with
some difficulty, while still grasping her Zendron in her other hand.
Then she managed to put the viewer away in one of her suit pouches. She
seemed to stumble and Wolf thought that she had been hit and whether
not by design or not it was impossible to say, she tumbled off the
ridge and back down to the floor of the arroyo.
Brigette was up in a flash and the pair was suddenly helping Francois
to move away towards the others and the Rover. They all ducked down
again as more red dust and ragged splinters of stone sprayed all over
their heads and shoulders. But they kept on slowly limping on moving
towards Helmut and Barbara for all that. Really there was nothing else
that they could do anyway.
and Barbara were in fact down a little lower than they were and it
should afford the slightly better cover for them all. They were
crouched down behind the four very large and irregular boulders which
formed at least a form of cover between them and the unfriendly fire
from the metal man out there.
was just about to lend a hand to Francois when the firing restarted.
Whole chunks of the lip of the arroyo were now tearing off and spewing
over his head as he lay there on a slightly higher level than Francois
and Brigette. He ducked his head down low again. It was more than
obvious that they had to get out of there and quickly now.
flash thought of his hand weapon came to Wolf, and he scrambled back to
the Rover and peered into the vehicle. Sure enough his weapon lay on
the floor. Retrieving it, he stumbled back towards Brigette and
Francois who had now joined Helmut.
all put the large boulders between them and the firepower coming at
them from the direction of the Liberty. Then they moved backwards for
the arroyo took a bend from here. And they began to hurry around it
with all the speed that they could muster while half dragging Francois
had got down in the classic bended knee firing position loosing off
fire in what he hoped was designed to be covering fire for the other
four who were now stumbling around the bend of the arroyo and hopefully
out of range. Reaching the second Rover they piled Francois into it.
Helmut drove with Barbara and Brigette as passengers, while Wolf ran
and out of the blue Brigette began shaking and then she burst into
desperate tears. It was delayed shock or battle fatigue in action of
course. Barbara put her arms around her and they clung to each other as
they finally wound their way back to safety.
she finally could speak, all that Brigette could say was damn it, damn
it, damn it in between the shaking. Helmut halted the Rover to allow
Wolf to spread eagle himself over the back of the vehicle and they made
their way back to the comparative shelter of their home island of
Ithica that way.
Chapter Seventeen. Asimov’s Amendments
Francois was both injured and a little aggrieved with his commander for
not believing that a rogue robot had been at the heart of the matter.
‘We should have acted on that assumption Wolf. Hey Brigette what about your digi-viewer images then?’
said nothing in reply and Brigette who had quite recovered as far as
she ever would and was cocking her head at Francois who was lying down
on a bed half propped up on a bolster. At first it seemed that Francois
direct question had shot right over Brigette’s head.
‘Have you got the beast on your digi-viewer ?’
injuries did not worry him half as much as his sense of Wolf’s
leadership over the robot affair to date. Drugs were tampering down his
leg injury somewhat but he was not a happy chappy at all. He was
propped on a bunk and it wasn’t his injuries that worried him the most.
He had been a fair bit of pain when they brought him in. Now he was
looking for answers. They had all of them gathered to the fray over
some drinks for it did seem about time for some kind of a summation.
‘Goddamn it, but I forgot all about it didn’t I; the viewer I mean?’
Brigette quickly turned back to a locker and started fishing in her protective airsuit pockets and pouches for it.
would we have done that was different then mon ami? I will tell you
Francois. Absolutely bloody nothing. Rien, eh, nothing at all mon ami.’
was Brigette speaking to Francois in a weird mixture of their native
tongue of French and English. Brigette now sought to turn on her
digi-viewer to retrieve the footage. She stood there, magnificent.. She
looked both beautiful and fiery after just two drinks and that was not
far off what Wolf was thinking either.
‘Francois, please tell me again what else could we have done in any case?’
She had found the digi-viewer and was tinkering with the buttons as she spoke.
Brigette had switched back to common usage English as she prepared to
show them all what was on her digi-viewer. Brigette continued to hold
in the Sam Hell could have done that was different if we were even sure
that a robot was on our tails Francois? And another thing mon ami why
would the robot have attacked us after we had left the American ship?
It just doesn’t make sense to me at all.’
viewer was now in her hand and held their total attention now. She
plugged it into a dock on a computer base instantaneously an image
appeared on the large screen above.
digi-viewer was obviously jinking around when the footage was taken.
Those who had been present could explain that all right. It was a token
of Brigette’s foolhardy bravery under fire. But in the mid distance you
could clearly make out the figure of what appeared to be a terrible
image of a shortish but wide metal clad figure firing towards the
viewer or rather the holder of the viewer. It was a man gone wrong and
it was also a machine gone awry.
just a brief moment then, the viewer self focused and presented a
tantalizing close up image of the terrible personification of the God
of War as an automaton. A terrible and metallic figure of Mars come to
the planet Mars in fact. It seemed to be asset on top of moving metal
tracks like a n old fashioned tank back on Earth. It was firing off
rounds from what looked like some kind of arm, which had been implanted
with a weapon. And the weapon looked much heavier than their Zendrons.
And then suddenly the viewer faded to black and that was
had moved significantly closer to Brigette now. She was shaking her
head from side to side. And indeed it was an awful thing to see.
‘It’s just awful Brigette, just truly awful truly.’
was speaking to nobody in particular and it was plain to see that
Francois was churning a little now in his mind. They were all of them
more than a little stunned now. It was all a bit too much to take in
really. Francois wanted to hold the floor again but was a little unsure
of his ground already. Ok so they had all witnessed the image but it
opened up more questions than they could possibly answer.
Wolf did not speak but instead he returned to the bed. He had got up
from it to watch the images on the viewer with the rest of them after
coming off guard duty a few minutes ago. Helmut was currently suiting
up to take over the position.
he was there alone back at the Ithica Nando Parucci had mended the
breach in the fencing surrounding both the Ithica complex. When they
had got back from the ‘ambush’ not far out from the Liberty, they had
immediately activated the ‘surround’ and alarmed cameras which had been
designed to ensure that no astronaut was inadvertently locked out of
course it was only prudent of Wolf to stand a sentry at all times after
what the one sided and near disastrous battle near the American ship
and nobody would have thought to demur over that. So he had was now
back inside the Ithica via the tunnel after taking that first stint of
had just come back into the portable when Helmut reported that it was
highly likely that Jean Alois would be heard within the hour from back
home. Helmut walked towards the tunnel, which passed through to the
Ithica and Wolf locked the first door after him.
was sitting on the bed now. Certainly he was very keen to have all of
them hear what Jean had to say. He reckoned that he should open the
Earth channel when it did come on so that all of them could hear what
was going on. It sure wasn’t the time for a leader alone to be privy to
information that might be vital to all their lives. He also knew that
he had to give his own appraisal of the ‘robot situation’ to all the
crew now. So he gave a little speech....
I was young fellow I read a book. When this book was published, the
‘Three Laws of Robotics’ were already seventeen years old. The title of
the book that I read was ‘The Rest of the Robots.’
of us here have heard of Iassac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics.
We have plugged into the ship’s computer and I have Asimov’s Laws here.
And as it is not such a long document I would like to read them to you
carefully attended by all excepting Helmut who was standing duty
outside, they listened to the words ringing down from the year 1941
when they were first penned.
1. ‘A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm;
A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except when such
orders would conflict with the First Law;
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does
not conflict with the First and Second Laws’
‘Hey is that all there is to them Wolf?’
This was Brigette who was fairly stunned at their brevity.’
that’s all there was Brigette at that time that is. These three laws
were in the most, accepted by readers of science fiction all over the
world. And what’s more most manufacturers of robots did take careful
notice of the laws too.
then a little later on Brigette, Asimov found that it was
necessary for him to make an amendment to his original Three Laws. He
called it the Zeroth Law, which continued to add other lower- numbered
the amendments were supposed to have the effect of acting not just for
the good of ‘specific humans,’ but for ‘humanity’ as a whole. In
effect, it gave the human controllers greater leverage towards robots
designed to kill in the end. Moral imperatives always tend to become
weaker with the passage of time in any case.
seems to be the nature of us humans. It was more than hinted here with
the changes in the law, that robot’s might be able to kill a human if
it would help humanity. This was meant to be in the way of a ‘higher’
or ‘a more noble’ Law I suppose if you like.
course I have been talking here of science fiction. And science
fiction which was written by one man.. And all of here know that
the military brass of the many nations who were developing robots do
not tend to overly concern themselves with fine fiction. They are
concerned with efficient ways of killing only. Warrior robots were
inevitable I suppose and I reckon that’s just what we’ve got here, a
bloody robot and it’s job simply is to protect his own.’
Barbara came back from the portable’s galley with a call of
‘Does anybody want coffee?’
she proceeded to pour a couple of cups with the steaming brew of the
best European brand of coffee that Paris could buy. Wolf loved his
coffee with four hundred reasons and he continued after sipping his
coffee and waiting a little while for the thing to cool down.
almost regardless of Asimov’s Laws, I think that at least some of the
American crew are still alive. Of course I cannot prove that can I? And
we do know for certain, that two of them are dead. There may be more as
the best proof that some of them are alive is that the warrior robot is
trying his damn best to protect them and nearly killed most of us in
the process. And further more I reckon that almost demonstrates that
the robot wasn’t the original cause of the problems either.’
paused to sip his coffee again and also to take in the effect that his
words were having on them. Barbara was the first to speak.
maybe I follow what you are saying alright, but if there are a couple
of the Liberty’s crew still alive and if they are in the locked section
of the ship at the pointy end, why don’t they come out and meet us
openly? And secondly why didn’t the robot attack us when we approached
the Liberty at first?’
looked directly at Barbara and smiled warmly at her. Nando was just
about to change his socks when he stopped doing it. His interest was
now entirely focused on the new turn of debate.
of these questions are good questions too and they open up many
possibilities Barbara. I don’t know if there is anyone in the foreship
section of the Liberty at all. But I do think that some of the crew are
still alive somewhere, somehow. One good reason that the robot opened
up on us when he did could be that the crew were stationed somewhere
else say between where we were in the arroyos and the ship.
think that we should maybe look at Brigette’s footage again to that
end. The fact is that they could be somewhere else either alive or
dead. We have to ask ourselves does a robot keep on trying to protect
his people even if they aren’t alive? I don’t know the answer to that
that very moment as if the old Gods of drama had introduced it on a
stage they all simultaneously heard the sound of the Earth contact
signal from the voice monitor squawking out loud. They all looked at it
for a bare moment as if it wasn’t real. The sound kept coming and Wolf
slowly walked over to it and pressed the open receive button. They
could all hear Jean Alois’ Gallic voice clearly now.
‘Hello Argo and do you read me now then?’
replied to the affirmative and also informed the controller that he was
on open line and most of his crew were with him and listening into the
conversation from the repaired portable in the Ithica complex. He
switched the dial to the open position so that all could hear.
you should go ahead and fill us in on the situation Wolf. We have all
been pretty worried about you all here. I should point out that
currently we have Houston representatives listening in to this as well.’
carried on to give a brief resume of most of what had occurred since
their last discussion, ignoring the strong sense of irony that was
strung out in his mind about them having the Houston people
eavesdropping right at this moment.
ended up with a savage thrust at what he said were acts space piracy
and near all out war mongering in deep space by the good ole US of A.
Jean Alois did not contradict him either, but instead adopted a serious
tone of voice in his reply.
President of the United States through his Houston controllers has
given you his deepest apologies for this entire incident Wolf. I am
just glad that none on our side has perished as a result. Wolf, I have
to ask you; how do you think that the two Liberty people died?’
didn’t answer immediately. He looked around at his team to see if
they had common ideas about this very point. It was Barbara kind of
reverting to her medical hat who ultimately answered the European
it’s Barbara here. Tom Glenn is dead. And I reckon that it’s likely
that he has been dead for some time. He’s in a grave near his ship as
you have just heard, so we can’t tell all that much about the cause of
his death. Lt Crosswhite didn’t appear to have a mark on his body as
far we could tell.
seemed to me to be no sign of wounds and no deep abrasions or whatever.
So although I think that he died suddenly and violently, in my opinion
it was not from obvious signs of foul play from either man or robot.
But on the other hand, neither did it seem a natural death. At a huge
guess, it could have been from asphyxiation. But at the moment it’s
probably anybody’s guess. Jean tell me straight. Are the others alive?’
Jean Alois seemed to take a deep breath at that question.
the truth is that we don’t know much at all about that Barbara. I’m
just about convinced that Houston are completely in the dark about it
too. Though having said that, they were bloody well so tardy about
letting us no anything at all it does not sit well even now. They tell
us that they lost contact just after the time that Tom Glenn died.
was when Perry Crosswhite took over the command I suppose. You will
have to learn more of that from one Major Tiptree very soon. Perhaps
there is no real reason to think that they are not being open about
this really Barbara. But you people on the ground can be the judge of
that I reckon.’
Wolf now broke in once more.
what made them change course in the first place and why in the hell are
they here at our damn landing place? That‘s the real crux of the matter
‘Wolf, I’ll hand you over to Major James Tiptree from Houston. He is the one you should be talking to about that.’
was a short pause for the changeover and then the US Major started his
spiel in a rather ungodly but quite succinct southern drawl.
Commander Kandihar it’s Major Tiptree here speaking to ya. We are all
very sorry this whole thing occurred the way it did Commander. I
promise you that personally. From the President downwards I mean. And
we are truly sorry about this whole deal. Events overtook us about
eight months ago I guess you could say.’
initial problem remained the crew of the Liberty’s abiding problem.
They began to realize that their air supply would soon run out. When
Commander Glenn realized that, they simply had no other option. He
changed their course for your site under the shadow of Mons Olympus. It
was a matter of survival Commander. It was purely a matter of life or
death Commander Kandihar; I promise you that.’
Wolf was not all that charitable at the moment that he could just let this statement slide by. He chipped in.....
the very least I reckon that you could have warned us about your damn
warrior robot near your ship Major. It damn near finished most of us
off for good out there and it still may I reckon. But are any of your
crew alive Major? ’
Tiptree seemed to suck in his breath in readiness to answer Wolf’s question.
Commander as weird as it sounds we just don’t know the answer to that.
We have not been in contact with them since the time of the death of Lt
Crosswhite Commander. That’s already almost a month ago. In fact and as
horrible as it sounds some of us were kind of witnesses by proxy to his
death. You see he was ‘on air’ to us as he was dying. We are almost
certain his death was due to asphyxiation Commander. That was nearly
seven weeks a ago now
‘Seven Weeks!’ Exclaimed Wolf, in total and unfeigned amazement.
right Commander, you heard me correctly. It is nigh on seven weeks
since we last contacted any single member of the crew of the
as to warning you of the situation Commander, we were about to do that
very thing when your Jean Alois informed us that he had lost all
contact with you and our hands were tied so to speak. I know that we
were tardy about that and once again I am sorry for it, but please
believe that we were going to warn you Commander.
intervened again. I don’t mean to use this as an excuse for what we
should term as our bad behavior, but Cape Canaveral has had be shut
down during your absence. This was due to Cecelia. I mean the giant
hurricane codenamed Cecelia!’
Commander, the site will be entirely abandoned in some four months or
so Commander. This massive swamping by the super tides occasioned by
huge hurricanes was of course predicted many years ago. At least since
2008 I’d say after the two major blows to New Orleans at least.
certainly true that Cape Canaveral was often thought of as an obvious
target too. This has obviously distracted us here at Houston quite a
deal. We have basically been relocating the services at Kennedy
Spaceport on higher grounds between San Antonio and Corpus Christi in
may or may not have heard yet but Hurricane Cecilia was truly ‘The Big
One that had been coming for just over fifteen years.’ Some fourteen
weeks ago it did come. And it came almost without proper warning from
our wind watcher boys and girls. Damn it Wolf I don’t know if a
butterfly flickered it’s wings over the Prambanan or not but it sure
created fire and brimstone chaos here. It destroyed most of the Bahamas
and killed many hundreds of thousands of people both in the USA
mainland between Florida and the Carolinas. Not to mention the areas
throughout the Bermudas, the Turks and Caicos Islands and poor Cuba as
of course the same thing happened to most of the Keys, swamplands, and
the tidal flats off the whole Florida and the Carolinas coastline.
Seven of our skeleton staff at Canaveral have drowned Wolf. We also
lost much irreplaceable equipment but we’d been building up Corpus
Christi for three years and we did manage to save a lot as well.
The global warming has gotten a damn sight worse here since you left us
Commander. And we here in Houston have had our hands full just to keep
our major programs afloat so to speak. But all the same, this should
have never ever occurred Commander.’
‘Just a minute please major.’
Wolf was turning to Brigette to ask her to suit up and go and relieve Helmut at sentry duty outside.
‘I want everyone to be clearly informed Brigette.’
She did so and the discussions with Earth continued apace
Wolf then asked Major Tiptree a question.
we got to the Liberty’ living quarters but there was no way we could
get through it. Does it have a voce command pass to it to get into the
command post in the forrard section? Or some other kind of locking
The major asked Wolf to hold on a minute while he put the question to someone else. And he came back on after a minute or three.
yes Commander it is voice coded in fact, It’s not what they call a
‘person specific’ command’ but a generic spoken code. The code word
Commander is.... Jefferson.’
Wolf asked to speak with Jean once gain. He spoke with considerable feeling now.
now Jean, we have Francois injured and the rest of us have scared you
no what by this bloody machine of theirs. In my own humble opinion I
reckon that it is possible that some of the American crew are alive. I
could not say how many of course. The robot seems to be aggressively
defending the Americans. To me that’s the only thing that makes sense
Jean. So what is to be done?’
Major Tiptree has just told me that he gives you every right to attempt
to destroy Jerzy..... as it seems to be intent on doing just that to
you. By the way Jerzy is their private name for that damned robot. It’s
a K 7 model by the way and as you will probably have already worked
out. The robot may know that his some of his crew are alive. The damn
thing may see itself as his crew’s only last chance. It is a damn
formidable machine Wolf...take care!
Wolf nodded his head with a seldom seen vigour. It was plain to see that he wasn’t going to argue on that head.
‘Yes Jean damn right you are too, it’s more like a platoon of highly trained marines than a single entity at that.’
Jean Alois kept bubbling along with his dialogue.
fact Wolf, Major Tiptree believes that destroying or disabling the
thing is probably your only option. He sees the robot who believes he
must protect his own as in fact surrendering their last chance of
survival. So the robot is actually harming his ‘own humans’ by
defending them if you see what I mean.’
Wolf and all of the crew of the Argo could see readily the power of the
argument alright. However most of them had also witnessed the power of
the beast far and away up too close. Or perhaps we should rightly say
the sheer firepower. And thus it was not easy to come up with an idea
of how mere amateur soldiers such as they were, could ever subdue such
a machine as this. But at least some of them had stated to put their
curiosity to work already. The only real advantage they had here was
that they were humans, and it was not.
waltzed around their quarters with a flourish. Most of the Argo’s team
had sunk into a leaning towards a philosophic gloom and introspection
and were flopped on beds in lethargy.
‘Ok you bastards.’
She said more pointedly looking towards the men there. Wolf was back outside on sentry duty now.
and are any of you here reckon you are game to take me on in a game of
chess. Or come to that, at any other games. Say like anything slightly
a bit more arousing over there then?’
She was pointing rather archly to the storeroom now.
shifted his damaged leg a little to look directly at Brigette now. He
simply said, ‘ah ma cherie you have me at a disadvantage right now you
Chapter Eighteen. Some Healing, and a thing called K7
leg was diagnosed by Barbara to be broken in two places. They weren’t
complicated breaks and she simply set the leg and Francois was
condemned to rest a lot. This was something that Francois was simply
rotten at, but all of the others invented fine tasks which truly needed
to be done was handed to the bedridden man.
a couple of days he was then a chair ridden Frenchman and he got on
with his tasks with good cheer. For instance it was his job to download
all he could discover about their nemesis. The warrior called a K7
General Motors type robot.
was also given the task of monitoring incoming messages from Earth. He
spent a lot of time chewing over all the megabytes of information about
Jerzy and anything indeed related to the man made machines, which Isaac
Asimov taught us to call robots. In particular he was looking at the
general Motors 2,028 to 2,029 models which were relatively fresh out of
Chicago. It made for very interesting reading too.
K7 model robot was one that came with both track propulsion and a
powerful self-feeding weapon. The robot stood about six foot high and
was some two and a half feet wide. It seemed that the robot was
designed so that it could ‘adapt’ itself in some manner or fashion out
of it’s tracks. Or should that be ‘at command’.
can a robot do anything ‘at will’ he wondered? It could negotiate
stairs both ways, and was also designed for particularly rough terrain.
So it would seem that this model was well very suited for the region of
the arroyos and gulches that surrounded the Liberty.
was definitely provided with a definite ‘warrior status’, which meant
that the general prohibition from harming human being doctrine a la
Isaac Asimov, had been at least partially withdrawn from it’s
positronic construction. It was definitely a killer robot then and it
had cost NASA 859,000 dollars and sixty five cents pus sales tax.
serial number was 950000345 K and that serial was stamped on the
exterior just aft of it’s left thigh.If you can call it that. And why
yes these general model was known as a K7. It was not registered as
having a known owner and it was not programmed to tell jokes.
warrior classes of robots had been definitely banned by the Reformed
United Nations Inc back on Earth, but that did not mean that they
didn’t get made. A lot of ‘bootleg’ robots came out of Taiwan for
instance, but dear Jerzy was definitely a good ole US of A boy then. As
I have already told you, he was from Chicago. And what is more Jerzy
came with a Manufacturer’s Guarantee Certificate from the year 2029.
any case many back yard workers and handymen could certainly adapt
ordinary class robots and so mackle them into some kind of fighting
robots to sell them on. And in fact, it was not unknown to find ‘pit
robot’ fighting in some of the less salubrious cities back on Earth.
was known to harbour at least three of these brutal ‘pit robot’ venues.
It was quite a huge money making effort too. And they were also in a
lot more cities across the world as well. All of course based on
venues were naturally quite illegal in most towns but that only served
to make them all the more attractive to certain types. It was said from
time to time, that some women often found these ‘unnaturally staged
fights’ most exciting and some men had got into the habit of taking
their ladies along to stir them up just a little, shall we say? I
cannot vouch just as to how effective that ruse was though can I?
circuses were also popular in some of the Eastern bloc cities in Europe
too, although it was well known that Russia had banned them completely
because of their historical love of all things human about their joyous
and massive circuses.
had time on his hands now while Wolf started to plan his method of
approach. The second team stayed pretty close to the Ithica for two
days now. Wolf was marking time. It was not that easy to formulate
another approach to the Liberty. But they all had a feeling that if
there were any survivors from the American crew at all, they might not
have all that much time left.
for their contact with Earth it became quite dodgy once again. A couple
of times it had flashed in only to fade away once more. In the last
thirteen hours they couldn’t raise home base at all. Nando had
spent most of this time doing a kind of everyday and ordinary
stocktaking of all the supplies and equipment in the store rooms and
lockers aboard the Ithica.
doing so, Nando stumbled across a very surprising thing. Unless the
manifest was out of order or some storeman or woman back on Earth had
fouled up totally the Americans had taken an emergency oxygen producing
system from the Number 13 storage bay locker room on the port side.
There could be absolutely no doubt about it.
was not a long-term solution for creating a breathable atmosphere for
humans at all. The system if properly installed, would keep safe a
smallish area of say no more than 12 to 15 square metres or
thereabouts. This area or room would naturally enough have to be
airtight and be used by no more than say four to five people at the
most. If it was used sensibly, and without any interruptions, then it
might keep the users alive for anything up to four weeks or so.
almost certainly the system would last them no longer than just on a
month. Four and a half weeks was probably the upper limit, and nobody
would wish anyone to push it up to that nervous barrier. After that,
the atmosphere was kaput and the humans would be exactly the same as
had started his idea off when he was talking to Nando first. They had
been discussing the ‘badlands’ as they now called them in the common
room, which had both day beds and chairs strewn around. As for the rest
of the astronaut’s quarters, each of them had their private suite of
rooms. If there was one thing that Bonsoir’s team did not stint on it
was private quarters. He had learnt from experience it seems.
was Brigette who just happened to listening to the two chatting away
together. By the ‘badlands’, they meant the gulches, humps and arroyos
that lay between the Ithica and the American ship. The topology and the
geology of the area was the centre of their discussion when Francois
suddenly recalled that they should have an item in the Ithica brought
from Earth called an SL.
was a geological tool really. SL simply stood for super laser and it
was primarily designed to break down rocks from a safe distance. It
needed to be at a safe distance from other objects because it was a
powerful beast of a rock blaster.
was a glorified kind of a laser, not dissimilar to the common and quite
powerful lasers back on Earth. However the SL was designed to be a more
portable affair, so it could very easily transported on the Mars Rover.
It was also very, very, powerful. If it could bust rocks wide open at a
safe distance, it might just give Jerzy a hell of a fright. That is if
they could get the SL close enough to the robot.
‘Is it in there Nando...have you seen it?
Nando nodded his head an affirmative immediately, for he had seen it only the day before while he was doing the inventory.
‘You reckon that it might be handy against that damn machine then Francois?’
was Francois who was nodding his head now and he told him that he had
witnessed trials of the laser outside Lyon at a testing ground.
‘It is formidable my friend....formidable.’
was Francois’ main comment on his memory of the trials. He immediately
asked Nando to bring the SL out of the locker rooms.
‘Go and ask Wolf first before you do it though Nando, you’ll need a hand to move it in any case mon ami’.
left Francois sitting in his chair nursing both his leg in plaster and
his new thoughts. Wolf listened to Nando’s explanation of the
discussion with the injured engineer and then the two of them went to
locker bay eleven and fetched the SL out. Even though it did take two
men to comfortably shift the thing around, there was no doubt that it
would fit comfortably into the Mars Rover with ease. Wolf then heard
a while Wolf could see that it had to be a possibility although there
was another main line of action in his mind and that was simply
inaction. If they left the robot alone it might just serve everyone’s
purpose better. The only real problem with that was if the American
team or whoever was left of it were now on dwindling air supplies as
could be easily surmised then this inaction would condemn them. You can
sprint without an air supply for fifty to sixty yards to another air
supply, but no more than that. After that you collapse and die of
next question was the same one that had been raised before. If you
worked on the assumption that Jerzy the robot was protecting the NASA
crew, where would they find it now? The arroyo where it had opened fire
on them had been almost half a kilometer from the Liberty. At a guess
at that time, the robot was situated about 250 metres away from the
American ship. Had it traveled there, or was it stationed there? If one
assumed that the Americans were also stationed thereabouts and not in
the pointy end of their ship, what were they living in then? It seemed
impossible to conceive that was possible for a moment, unless that is,
they were hiding in some kind of portable or temporary shelter. He
supposed that it could just be possible at that.
of this could be known for certain and it it did not help their line of
strategy one little bit. Wolf made a mental note to ask Major Tiptree
if the Liberty had carried some kind of emergency or portable shelter
with them on their journey to Mars. He discussed this with Francois as
the engineer was resting on a kind of sofa in what passed for the
common room. They all had separate and quite luxurious if compact
bedrooms. The biggest attraction for seasoned space travelers however,
was the toilets which were of the usual type found on Earth.
were designed with normal kind of plumbing and needed no vacuum
arrangements, or any other strange acting machinery that they were
forced to put up with in deep space in these most basic movements. It
was truly a godsend to them all indeed. Just a simple but sheer luxury
in their Martian lives. Francois had already graduated to the
common room sofa for company’s sake. The Frenchman had been kind
of listening in to Wolf talk out aloud about the possible whereabouts
of the first team. He thought about this for a while and then his
engineer’s mind took over.
might just be at least one advantage for them Wolf. That might be the
volume of the area they had to fill with a breathable atmosphere. We
reckon that they must have taken the emergency oxygen apparatus from
here Wolf. What could they do with it to the best of their advantage?
Set it up in that vast craft of theirs?
don’t think that would have lasted them the distance Commander. But a
longer period of survival might have been possible if they do have a
smallish emergency shelter that they had set up somewhere. Then they
would be using the smaller volume of space inside the shelter help them
to survive longer.’
of these ideas made fairly good sense to the commander but it was all
still so much speculation swirling around in their heads. They had very
little that was definite to go on and that was for sure. It was
something that they all had to sleep on.
next day it threatened heavily to rain down or more correctly roll over
the top of them another dust storm. They were still in the Ithica
complex and Wolf was still at this time uncertain as to what action
they should take. Do you risk your own crew so as to safe the marooned
and threatened American crew? Do you risk your crew when you aren’t
even sure that a single member of the other crew is alive? Any move
might be the wrong one.
suited up and went outside alone on Wolf’s orders to test the obtaining
conditions. As soon as she had stepped outside it definitely seemed to
her that another storm was coming. The storm was definitely
pinking up the air as the rust colours built up once more. The best
colour and atmosphere to describe the Martian scene was often that of
cinnamon. Cinnamon was at many times the tone of most of these desolate
plains and the craters and mountains all around.
then she turned away from magnificent Mons Olympus back to the Ithica.
She was just about to go back through the airlock, when in the distance
through the already swirling dust clouds at ground level she thought
that she saw some kind of dull light up there low in the pinkish and
darkling rose coloured sky. Was it moving or static, she just could not
really could not say what it was at all. A meteorite perhaps she
thought, but she hadn’t yet seen one falling in a singularity; always
she had seen showers of them darting downwards. She had seen the light
in the southeast and truly it would have been impossible to judge at
what distance she was seeing the thing.
was indeed in the general direction of both the badlands and the
American craft. Probably it was somewhere off to the right of the craft
from where she was standing she thought. But in truth nothing more
could be accurately said about it. The banks of rolling dust soon
swallowed up the light too. It had only been there for a fleeting
instant and then it just disappeared.
she came back inside she reported both the coming storm and the
phenomena of the odd light to all and sundry. Nando listened most
closely and spoke as he turned to his commander.
‘Wolf, you don’t think that it just might have been a rocket flare?’
comment of Nandos set up a babble of speculation among all comers. Was
it at all likely then? And could a human actually set off a flare at
all outside their quarters, if they had no air suited breathing
apparatus. Perhaps they did possess at last one operating suit?
Francois argued that in the Martian atmosphere you could just possibly
make a short dash without oxygen. You would be in danger from dying
from asphyxiation of course within minutes he argued. However, if you
simply held your breath much as you would under water, it could be
done. It would be dangerous, but possible.
debate went on until the little death of sleep was upon them once
again. Wolf resolved to have a meeting in the morning to decide what to
do. The storm might run for a day or two or it might be gone when they
awake. There was a need though for an open house discussion about their
course of action.
‘Wolf I have come to the conclusion that we have no choice but to attempt a rescue mission very soon.’
was Barbara speaking and she was now alone with the man who was both
her lover and her commander. She had never spoken like this to him on
this mission before. Never at all had she tried to direct him. In some
ways as the second in command she was entitled to do more of that than
any other of the team but had previously held her peace. Now it was as
if something which simply rose up within her that compelled her to
state a strong if emotionally held opinion. She believed with all her
heart rather than her mind that they should go to the aid of their
fellow astronauts. Even though the very thought of doing so chilled her
to the bone.
reckon that we must assume that at least some of them are alive but
their time is rapidly running down. The clock’s against them now for
sure Wolf. They only did what we would have done when all is said and
done Wolf. They acted to save their lives. Think about it Wolf. You
would have done exactly the same. They knew that you them to do so in
fact; not an option for them. Think about it Wolf and answer yourself
the question. If it had been us in their position what would you have
Wolf was standing full on to Barbara and he replied softly.
I think you are right Babs. And Allah knows that I would have ordered
all of you to do the very same thing. What you say is right, for there
was simply no other option if you turn your mind to it. Turning around
and heading back to Earth was not an option was it? And let’s
face it Babs, landing at their original landing site wasn’t on either.
However, that’s not the full debate now is it? We haven’t a clue if any
of them are alive or not. Do I order all of you to attempt to take out
this crazed and non-thinking robot and we perish as well? It’s a tough
call you know my sweet. It would be just a really hard call.
if we can excuse the NASA crew for their downright piratical methods, I
still am left with the secondary dilemma am I not? And bloody hell, the
fact is that we do not even know where they are do we? Alive or dead
for that matter, we still do not know that outcome do we mate?
I have to say that I am hazarding a guess that you reckon that they are
not in the Liberty. Am I right with that then Wolf?’
Wolf simply nodded his head at first but then went on.
and you are dead right you know Barbara.... it just makes sense doesn’t
it? You are right for the reason that was first put by Francois in
fact. They most probably needed a smaller space my dear. I think that
it would have been a very hard decision for them to leave the comfort
of the Liberty mind you, but once again they simply had no choice.’
intend to ask that Major if the Liberty possesses some kind of
emergency living quarters. One that could be erected somewhere out in
the open. I reckon that the volume inside even the living quarters
inside the ship would have been just too great for the oxygen
production machine to cope with. And the great cabins would have been
too great to cope with Barbara.
means that they are probably in some dug in hutch or some kind of
arrangement not so far from where our young General Motors boy is
Then he turned to Barbara.
Babs, but I am feeling so tired now girl and I think that if it is your
wish that we might go to bed now and see out our weary night together.’
so they lay together with a faint growling of a growing Martian
sandstorm barking up against the portable. And for just a little while
the stars could not look down.
Chapter Nineteen. Robinson Crusoes?
the morning the sandstorm’s growlings were far more silent than they
had been the previous night. Arrangements were being made then to
explore the likely area of the badlands where Brigette had seen the
light. If it had been a flare there seemed little doubt that a human
was out there and in trouble and they had all heeded Barbara’s
emotionally delivered message. They would risk a trip to see what it
was that Brigette had seen. Nothing else would have done.
so after only a brief and hasty breakfast Wolf accompanied by Helmut
and Brigette set off once more towards the badlands in the exploring
who was instructed by Wolf to continue to try and raise Earth packed
the Rover with some extra emergency rations on his own initiative while
Barbara stayed behind primarily to attend to Francois injured leg. Two
Zendrons, part of what was now standing orders, were placed on the
spare seat while Wolf carried his hip automatic belt weapon as per
normal. Finally then, they checked out that the communications between
the Rover and the Ithica were clear and they quit the Ithica well
before 8 am Martian time.
the way, they stopped to take their bearings. This was approximately
after an hour’s rugged travel in the Rover. They still had at least a
half hour to go although they couldn’t judge this clearly at all.
Brigette kept trying to lead them in the general direction from what
they reckoned might have been the sighting of a flare. They all
returned to the Rover, they immediately set off again in search. The
winding gulches foxed the second team for a while as they headed
towards the Liberty but branching off some three hundred metres before
they came to the craft. They tracked down this particular arroyo and
after going another quarter of a kilometer Brigette thought they just
might be on song.
the end though, the little shelter was not all that difficult to find.
Brigette was the first to spot the emergency survival unit bunkered
down at the bottom of the arroyo. There was no movement at all. No sign
of life from the outside whatsoever here. Of course the team was still
wondering what in the Sam Hell could have driven these explorers to
these extremes then? The three astronauts stepped down from the
Rover. And they were all stunned and speechless now. Helmut in
particular was moved and exicited. He began to run ahead of the others
to the American’s shelter to see the thing closely.
camp out as it were, in the middle of the wastelands of red dust seemed
like an act of sheer madness to them all. Or maybe it was merely an act
of sheer total desperation. Wolf signaled to the others to wait while
he banged gently at first on the light metal of the emergency
structure. He was striking the hatch a little harder now as he spoke to
have to make sure that we endanger none of the occupants inside. We
certainly cannot open the hatch until we are fairly sure it isn’t
pressurized to an Earth atmosphere. No reply came back though and it
seemed quite obvious that no conscious person inside the survival
quarters could have missed Wolf’ insistent hammerings. Helmut pressed a
small item, which looked like some kind of meter against the light
metal of the unit. He took a reading from the meter and promptly
it’s not at an Earth atmosphere Wolf, for certain. Anybody who is alive
in here would have to have an independent breathing kit on chief. Go
ahead and open up Wolf.’
looked more closely at the hatch now and then finally tugged at the
handle and the hatch was slowly swung outwards and open. He waited just
a moment or two for any reaction and then he stooped down to peer
inside ahead of Brigette. He saw an empty cocoon capable of sheltering
up to three or four souls. He wasn’t long in swiveling his head back to
look at his team and buddies. Saying simply,
‘Hey it’s empty folks; there’s not a soul in here!’
news stunned them all. The other two peered inside to judge for
themselves. There major premise was that they would possibly save the
American team by defeating the robot. They had no proof at all that
they any of Americans were alive at all. But having discovered this
structure against considerable odds it had never occurred to them that
they would not find them here now.
is alive or dead I mean. It was a moment of total surprise and of
utter blank disappointment. Almost half a minute of stunned and
complete silence surrounded them now making the red planet seem a
little meaner. And what’s more red dust began to swirl around their
feet again now.
could just see the top of the Liberty in the distance and all looked up
towards the giant American rocket in as if they were one man instead if
one team. But for some reason or other Brigette turned and looked far
away in the opposite direction. She was looking towards the great hulk
that was Mons Olympus. She could not see it though. She could see
nothing but a pink haze out there right at this moment. And even a pink
haze meant danger here.
up, she saw the oxide reds that grew darker by the second. She pointed
upward to the great volcano, so that both Wolf and Helmut would follow
her gaze and her meaning. There was no time to lose; they had to
scarper back. They both nodded their heads in unison. So another dust
storm now seemed imminent to them and they would need to take shelter
was walking steadily towards an object lying on the ground it was the
remains of a small hand held rocket launcher. It was an emergency flare
booster in fact. It had definitely been a flare that Brigette had seen
after all. Wolf signaled to the others to get ready to leave quickly.
He held up his hand to make them see that he was ducking back into the
won’t be but one minute guys. I reckon that we haven’t time to get
ourselves back to the Ithica and the mob now. I know we’ve not much
time to beat the storm now but we have just got to see inside there one
disappeared back into the emergency unit for a moment. And true to his
word Wolf was not inside it for very long and he soon joined them all
at the Martian Rover. But Wolf refrained from telling the others that
once again he had noticed signs of disarray within the American built
and designed shelter. Something had bothered these astronauts here as
well. The other matter was that he had been absolutely certain that
there were no signs of the emergency breathing sets at all in there.
None at all!
Helmut gunned the Martian Rover and headed back to the Ithica into the
teeth of an approaching gale bearing much of the ever present and
spinning red dust. Of course the Rover was an open vehicle and
Briggette and Wolf clung on hard as the wind punished them. It wasn’t
going to be easy to get back was something that came to all of them
before too long. After twenty minutes of pounding forward like this,
Wolf even considered turning back to shelter in the American’s
temporary setup. But in the end he nodded to Helmut to keep on making
what increasingly seemed like a desperate run for the Ithica. Another
ten minutes past and Helmut had to slow the Rover down now. The storm
was only increasing in intensity and visibility was fast closing down.
Chapter Twenty. Talk of a Kind of D Day
‘What’s going on Nando?’
who had peeped into the bedroom to alert her, filled her in on the
meeting. It was so rare for the astronauts to be asked by their
commander to meet in this rather formal way he was certain that big
things were afoot.
I reckon that we are just about to commit ourselves to something very nasty mate.’
replied and grinned at her widely. He was not really disturbed, for he
had known for a long time that it would come to this. He also found it
impossible to keep his eyes off Brigette’s beautiful body, which peeped
through her disheveled nightwear. She was not that type of woman to let
that worry her though.
did pull on a jacket after a series of yawns and stretches and shuffled
off to join the others in what passed for a common room in the
portable. It was actually the laboratory adjoining the living quarters.
Wolf walked in and sat himself down in front of them. He looked both
tired and a little uncomfortable but a usual he was in command of the
all gathered in the Lowell room, which was the main living quarters of
the portable. Wolf took control of the gathering almost immediately.
folks I’ve been in contact with Jean Alois again, and I managed to
discover from our Major Tiptree at NASA that the Liberty was definitely
equipped with an emergency survival support. That is to say they were
supplied a living space, which could be employed in situ in an
emergency. The ship was designed to be put ‘in situ’ on the Martian
terrain but it presupposed that an air system was already available to
the astronauts. It was not then equipped with an independent oxygen
producing system. Francois came up with a logical reason for their
doing this as well. He reasons that the volume of space inside the
Liberty was just too large to support the air producing system that
they purloined from us at the Ithica. It’s a reasonable assumption I
it’s my hunch that the surviving American crew debarked from their ship
at some point and set themselves up in this emergency hutch or
quarters. They have not been in contact with Earth since before they
left the Liberty and NASA knows nothing more about their status. He
looked closely now at his fellow team members and continued.
all know the burning question here. The robot seems to be guarding them
in the spirit of the amended Asimov Laws. If there are still survivors,
it is in fact unwittingly killing them for they might be locked in with
only one hope of ultimate survival. They only have us to save them. So
do we go against the robot knowing how formidable it is or not? That is
the burning question. I must say to you all that I am undecided and I
am opening the floor as it were for a decision to go or not to go.’
While you are digesting that Jean also gave me some Earth news.
Bahamas are now totally uninhabitable. Most of the citizens have been
evacuated to the USA. A few went to Europe and it’s presumed that the
rest are dead. Maybe something just above a quarter of a million people
perished there. Another giant hurricane called Claude was the culprit
this time. And in America approximately three and a half thousand
people died in the coastal areas in the Carolinas in the same
was a long silence after this. All of them could recall the
calmer Gaaia that had been their blue planet when they were all much
younger. It was a truly changed world these days. The USA had in fact
been building huge sea walls along selected parts of the South East
coast. They had commenced building these walls six years ago but the
slow political process of exactly where the sea walls should go had
made for slow going in that initial period.
this peninsular or that one be abandoned? Should those particular low
lying coastal areas not be protected? Who would have to move then?
Would that tiny coastal town have to go? Whose actual properties
should be saved then? Ah but there were simply thousand of questions
with only difficult answers and no real solutions in the end. Barbara
was the first to speak.
team, I am probably the weakest link here when it comes to being
anything like a combat soldier, or being brave at all. I am essentially
a scientist and that’ it. Perhaps excepting for Brigette, we are all of
us here not really equipped to be grunts for a moment. We are either
scientists and explorers or both, but fate has handed us a bad lot.
I’ve already indicated to Wolf that I think we should face off the
robot. In short I vote we take him down if we can. We can’t be certain
that he won’t come and get us right where we are in any case. We cannot
guarantee anything. So I reckon that it’s either it or us. We
can’t assume that he will always stay close put next to those he
reckons that he’s protecting. We can’t tell that at all.’
if there are any NASA survivors, I think that we have no choice here do
we? I also think it’s likely that Brigette did see a flare. From her
description, it seemed to be coming from approximately the right
direction. And it also would fit in with the notion finally that they
did know that we were here too. The sounds of the firefight against
their robot in the arroyo would have arguably alerted them to the fact
they we were finally present. They would have heard that howling racket
for sure. They knew that we were coming right enough but they might not
have been sure that they would be alive when we got here. I say we must
Helmut chipped in with a question now.
‘What about the storm? I can’t really feel the push of it outside. Has the storm died out then Wolf?’
Helmut I think that you saw Nando go outside before. This last bloody
dust storm overnight seems to have completely blown itself
Nando turned to Francois who was nursing his broken leg across another chair.
about this laser thing Francois, can it really do the job against that
damn machine? You say that you saw the trials and will it really be
capable of take out this bloody robot?’
looked fondly across at Nando and in fact he did not seem for that
moment to be the hard bitten man that was his normal lot in life a he
half lay there.
answer to that is yes. It’s a definite possibility Nando. But you would
have to get close enough to the robot to do it mate. But you have to be
sure not to be too close either. There could be splinters and fragments
that could easily maim or kill you in the strike. But never fear Nando,
this SL rock buster is a ball buster alright. It could knock him out
ok. I don’t really have a vote here folks because I am how do you say
‘hors de combat’ eh? So I pass, but you have already noted what I had
to say too I suppose.’
‘Then I say that we should have a chance in succeeding and I am with on this Barbara too.’
Nando looked hard at Wolf as he spoke these words. And it was gentle
Nando, who was more at home with his beloved dwarf plants speaking.
Nando, who wasn’t quite as argumentative as perhaps an Italian might
be. Nando had now cast his vote suddenly. Helmut nodded in what seemed
to be a kind of mute agreement with Nando’s simple words. And Helmut
did not speak a word at all. Wolf merely looked at him and Helmut met
his eyes and Helmut’s eyes said simply ‘we go’.
ignoring their commander for the moment, this left only Brigette to
state her private position. But in truth Brigette seemed the most
nervous of them all. Hand she seemed for a moment as if it would break
when she stated to speak.
says I am the brave thing here........ but the truth is that I am just
a headstrong and foolish woman. That’s me ok, just your typical
daredevil and your quintessential flyboy jock at heart. No imagination
whatsoever, so there appears to be no consequences for your actions are
there? But you all saw me break down the other night. Being under close
fire like that is a totally different experience. I can only wonder how
those marine boys who fight at their many frontlines can cope at all.
And in truth I amndamn well glad that I cried. But yes and just know
somehow that some of the Yanks are still alive and we must by all means
try to save them. Afterall they are our space buddies when it’s all
done and dusted.’
was breathing a little too hard now. As she started to sit down,
Francois in an awkward kind of a struggle, half came to his feet to
assist her to her seat.
stroked her shoulder in such an aching fondling way. And then he openly
and deliberately touched her between the shoulders and the breasts
without any sort of inhibitions whatsoever. And as he kissed her softly
in front of all of the team and he tenderly said to her.........
Brigette girl, forever you will be legend among us all here and don’t
you ever forget it babe. He quietly inched her back down to her chair.
The small crisis was over now and her breathing became regular once
‘So be it then, we go.’
was Wolf denoting that no matter his bad feelings and qualifications
about the action, they would attempt to mount what was effectively a
rescue effort for the first team on Mars. Wolf knew that it was time to
break this touching Gallic scene quickly. In fact he knew that they
could easily take over the whole show otherwise. Of course he needed
move once again into the tougher world of reason and fact. Wolf didn’t
mean to speak in biblical lines but that’s the way it came out
I am not going rush into this thing in one day. I know that time is
probably of the essence for the Americans but we have men and materiel
to transport and there is only the one mobile Rover now. Perhaps it
might be possible to get the Rover that we abandoned moving again if we
look at it. After all, it’s too valuable resource just to leave it
there rammed into that wall of the arroyo’
have to get our resources into place carefully and it will take at
least two trips to do it. We have the SL to take over to where we think
we will be attacking the robot for instance. And yes, I do have a kind
of a plan of attack already. Firstly it will entail two of us to risk
our bodies staying out exposed to at least one whole Martian night out
in the badlands. We need a plan that will give us all a fighting chance
at least and it will need us to have our best resources over near the
Liberty. Are there any more comments for the moment?’
was the formerly and most unusually distracted Brigette who spoke up
almost clear and loud first. She stood up again and faced them all. Now
she had recovered her normal forthright manner and composure. Her voice
was clearer now as well this time.
want to speak about the SL as a weapon now. The important thing is not
just the distance from the target people. I mean that bloody machine
that almost did for some of us. Probably the main thing is the
trajectory of the shot or the beam of the SL. I speak as an experienced
fighter pilot who has had to pick and choose and figure out her targets
in flight. I mean we learn a lot about trajectories in general in our
game. I was also trained in space warfare for four months God forgive
me and that has made me a think of a few other things.
I mean to say is, that the SL will be calibrated as it were for use on
Earth but the thinner Martian atmosphere it has to be aimed a fair bit
lower than you would reckon. I think that you will find that this SL
fires balls of high capacity energy rather than a stream of energy if
you follow me. This will have almost the same effective ballistic value
as a more ‘normal’ projectile back on Earth. You will definitely have
to shoot low then. For other wise you will surely overshoot with the
far thinner Martian atmosphere. It would simply arc up and on beyond
the target. I guess then, that I should now volunteer right now as the
shooter boys. What do you say to that?’
they had all watched a type of promotional film in the Huygen’s room on
the capabilities of the K7 robot. Francois had downloaded it from Earth
so they might know their enemy a lot better. The robot was permanently
attached to it’s tracks but could extend itself upwards to a further to
make itself almost two metres higher from the surface. It possessed a
grenade launching capability to go with it’s already awesome firepower.
might be operated if it’s target was in a little closer and it also had
many formidable night fighting capabilities as well. When the short
film was finished Francois turned to Brigette and made the only comment
that was heard in the silent Huygen’s room.
‘Well ok it ls a damn formidable thing all right, but when it’s all said and done it’s only a machine babe.’
Chapter Twenty-one. Cometh the Day
then informed them that he had selected Brigette and himself to be the
pair who would sit out the night guarding the SL once they had put it
into a chosen position. Helmut would drive them to the position and
drive the Rover back again. There was he said, to be no debate about
this. For he noted, everyone would have a clearly defined role in the
assault, before the thing was over. Even the almost bed ridden
Francois, who would be out of immediate harms way back here. But as
Wolf repeated it was totally necessary to have someone directing the
eyes and ears of what might be learnt from back home and the monitoring
of the scanning capabilities of images from their own digie-viewers
once they were out in the field again.
and Brigette planned to dig themselves in behind the cluster of huge
boulders that had previously sheltered them from the robot’s fire in
the arroyo. All except Nando had been there and Wolf was confident
enough that that they would recognize them if they saw it again. But
from the images provided by Brigette’s digie-camera, the spot could be
pin pointed within fifty metres in any case. This was simply done by a
global positioning device used by Brigette as she stood there taking
pictures. Their personal computers would see to that.
there followed some three hours of intensive checking, loading and
materiel sorting. Finally, after they had all checked their airsuit
oxygen levels and topped them up to the max, they loaded up the Rover
with the rock busting SL together with Kevlar and titanium integrated
fold out weapon protector shields which Wolf would put into position at
of them were provided with emergency rations and night goggles. In
Brigette and Wolf’s case they were provided with a heavily heated
emergency sleeping tent and thermal bags. These were especially
designed for emergency use on Mars and should suffice. These would most
certainly keep them alive for a night or two, but probably not make
thing he was very keen on taking were picks and shovels and at least
Barbara wondered privately about these items. And so after all of them
had punched in the coordinates of the huge boulder’s position into
their air suit computers they were at the ready. Wolf too was at last
satisfied they were ready to go and he and Brigette made their
here the others were to wait for the bright stars to wain early the
next morning. They would not see either Phobos or Deimos looping above
the red planet, but the sun would shine quite early. At some time just
before 6.300 hours Helmut, Nando and Barbara were to start off in the
Rover towards the Liberty and taking a looping kind of route, which
would be carefully designed to avoid the area from where the K7 had
been firing at them.
8.00 hours they were to set off three light and sound flares
simultaneously and then loop back around via the Rover to Brigette and
Wolf’s position at the giant boulders.
were to debouche from the Rover some metres back down the arroyo. They
would take out their own weapons and emergency rations, and join Wolf
at the Boulders. In this way, the Rover would be their final fall back
position in the case of them having to beat another retreat back
towards the Ithica.
said that the shovels and picks would be ready for them at his well dug
in position. He didn’t specify exactly why he put so much emphasis on
the digging tools being to hand.
also had huge sheets of dusty or rusty looking plastic too. Did Wolf
have foxholes in mind here then? But that was not the object in his
mind at all. And if plan ‘A’ was almost about to be put into effect,
Wolf also had a plan ‘B’ in his devious and handsome head as well.
First they had to put things into place and perhaps the rest would
vital movements would nearly at all times be coordinated by the images
that Francois would direct to the other party. Wolf was hoping to
create a diversion here. This was a tactic designed to perhaps confuse
a machine. Was a K7 a fine general then as well as fire and death
spitting monster? That too was an unknown and they would soon enough
discover the truth of the matter. It was mid morning when Wolf and
Brigette left the Ihtica.
their backs to that mightiest of all volcanoes known to man Mons
Olympus Helmut was concentrating hard in the driver seat. He had all
his time cut out in steering the Rover through the winding narrows of
the arroyos of the heavily eroded and torturous slivers of the gulches
and ancient channels of the badlands.
had informed them that Mons Olympus was a ‘shield volcano as they
stared at it on one clear and early evening. The mountain he said was
so named from the olden days Icelandic word ‘skjaldreiour.’
is simply to all intents and purposes, Old Norse for a warrior’s
shield. The shape of such volcanoes resembles in some ways such an
object and the volcano’s crater in the centre of the spreading mountain
might appear to some as the shield’s boss from ancient times. And
Beowulf be my doubtful friend might just be apt he added.
drove across the rude cinnamon plains and into the humps, gulches and
arroyos of the badlands, which if they had the capability to continue
on would inevitably lead them to region of the Tharses Montes. These
are a range of mountains or rather a series of volcanic mountains to
the east, which was basically made up of three more volcanoes all
smaller than the one behind them. They are namely Arsia Mons, Pavonis
Mons and Ascreus Mons repectively; all being perched high above the
Tharsis Plateau. Nando had told them that he wasn’t sure whether or not
these were also ‘shield volcanoes.’
would be another three quarters of an hour of Helmut steering the Rover
very gingerly through the badlands before they arrived at their
destination by the shadow of those huge boulders. As they drove along
Wolf called in to Francois to check on their open lines of
were all good and so he urged Francois to link up once again with Jean
Alois back home as soon as was humanly possible. He also checked that
their digi-cameras were posting back to Francois when he turned them
on. These also checked out well and good. They had plenty of contact
there and that just might make a huge difference in the end.
they arrived at the feature of the giant cluster of basalt boulders
that they remembered from before. Helmut stayed with them for about two
hours. He assisted them to erect their emergency shelter and to
construct a further embrasure. A small rampart in fact, that would also
protect them from the murderous metal hail of fire that they might
again expect from metally made K7 robot.
helped to position the SL rock buster machine too. This was now sited
quite cunningly in between two of the huge boulders but angled so as to
still have quite a good field of fire. Then as time was not standing
still just as it will not do on Earth, Wolf instructed Helmut to return
to the Ithica for the night.
help them but they were almost as well set up here now as thy ever
would be. He waved them a shallowly felt hearty farewell as he drove
off in the Martian Rover. They were here alone for the night at least.
God what have we done then.... thought Brigette all of a sudden.
looked around her carefully. Did that metal killer bastard know that we
here already? There was no way at all of knowing the answer to that.
Wolf, sensitive soul and leader that he was saw that certain shadow of
a smile on Brigette’s handsome dial. Ah cherie and do never fear or
grieve dear woman. For it will be fine soon. You’ll see! But we have
more work to now.
worked so hard now that they really didn’t notice the early Martian
evening was gradually descending upon them. It was not until Wolf
noticed that the shadow of the closest boulder had started to fall over
their emergency quarters that he suddenly realized that they must
immediately begin preparing themselves for the long night ahead of
they were toiling out in the middle of the arroyo. They had been
digging for almost an hour and a half. This was also the reason that he
had brought that large sheet of heavy plastic with them. It would be
disguised ground when they stretched the sheet over the pit. He would
pin it down with randomly spread rocks and Martian dust would hide all
of it with luck.
had another set geological tools to hand as well. He had two
hand-managed electronic diggers that were designed for the astronaut
cum geologist to slice down into the Martian soil. They would not have
managed to dig the pit without these and even then they had to work
very hard for well over two hours to finish off a reasonably deep pit.
Wolf put a slope to the floor of the pit with the electronic diggers to
make it even harder for their robot to obtain any footing or traction
if ever they should be able to trap the thing.
covering the crude pit with the heavily oxided-dirt and dust, they
would simply hope that a K7 warrior had no means of detecting a sudden
void before him. This was part of the strange plan that had come into
Wolf’s head as he was watching the film clip about the formidable
forces of that warrior robot clan called K7’s.
had asked himself this question. If these machines were propelled along
on tracks what would happen if they were placed in the position of
being in a quite sharply walled pit? Would they be able to extract
themselves or would they, it as it seemed possible to him, be unable to
move either upwards, backwards or forwards?
had come to him out of dark old recesses of his filmic memory. Very
old, or perhaps we should say ancient Hollywood Tarzan films came to
him as he watched that clip and the warrior robot.
oldest and almost certainly the corniest of the Tarzan heroes of
Hollywood was one Jonnhy Weismuller. The former Olympic gold medalist
swimmer played a non English speaking son of an English aristocrat.
Weismuller was the burly but athletic ‘me-Tarzan-you-Jane jungle man’.
woman was called Jane. She was petite and dangerously beautiful. She
was played by Maureen Sullivan. This lady was the real-life mother of
another very famous Hollywood star of years gone by.
the Hollywood star’s name was Mia Farrow who got mixed up with both
Roman Polanski and Frank Sinatra. And memory bar the door but we can
never know the reason that some things flash to the front of the mind
and there was another Martian connection hein? With Edgar Rice
Burroughs I mean. The same man who created ‘Tarzan, King of the
Jungle,’ wrote of aliens and men colliding on the red planet. He did
think of this as a long shot then.
it probably was too. So it was in many ways as crazy as, but then they
did not have all that many other shots left in the locker in any case
did they? It was do or something else entirely he reckoned now. And
even if the idea slowed the machine down a bit it might just be
I have already said, their redoubt was constructed among the giant
boulders. These were situated some distance after a junction of two
gulches or arroyos. The arroyo soon after their redoubt took a distinct
turn to the right. It was around this bend that they had retreated at
the conclusion of their original confrontation with the robot. So
the two possible paths fed into the one here.
was in this single arroyo about sixty metres from the boulders that
Wolf and Brigette had constructed the disguised pit in the centre of
the bed of the arroyo. The pit was at about the distance of what
Brigette had calculated as the upper limits of their rock busting SL’s
accuracy. Even so this was mere guesswork albeit by an experienced and
serious student of air firepower. There were no manuals or comments
from Jean Alois back on Earth to help them here. They were strictly on
clammy touch of cold was already beginning to gnaw at their bodies now
as they waited. They would need the extra warmth of the emergency
quarters and also their thermal sleepers over them before thirty
minutes had passed. For this reason Wolf suddenly remembered the short
story by Jack London where he has a man trapped out in the Alaskan
clothes have become wet. It is 32 degrees below and he will die within
two or three minutes if he does not get a fire lighted tout suite. He
does manage to get one going in fact, but the desperate man forgets
something. He has built his fire under the low hanging bough of a tree,
which is heavily laden with snow.
now the warmed snow on the bough melts quickly and dumps down onto the
man’s fire and therefore the man must die. And that is exactly what did
happen. He had read the tale at least twenty years ago, but he still
remembered this short yarn as of yesterday.
passed a strange and difficult night of dark indigo dreams. Because
their bodies were exhausted after their heavy manual labour they slept
for the first few hours after telling Nando that they were settled in
for the night. But they had retired to the emergency shelter very early
because of the extreme cold and it was still only 10.00 and hours when
they were completely and utterly wide awake. They listened carefully
but could hear nothing.
were unable to go outside at all, but the two diggie-cameras that they
had set up and pointed in the direction that they reckoned that the K7
might appear from recorded no movement on any front at all. This
however did not give them a lot of comfort. Darkness be my friend
thought Brigette and we might just need a helping hand in the morning
come to that. They opened up contact with the Ithica to learn that Jean
Alois had been contact with the team while they were resting.
had been little to report from Earth either, so the decision had been
made by Nando to allow them to sleep. Wolf then asked Nando to get the
team to fire a few rounds from their Zendrons as they set off the
flares over at the Liberty.
a little fuss and then withdraw quickly was the order. Wolf began to
read the copy of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that he’d brought along
only occasionally recalling there own days of being so
hours crawled by with the awful combination of inaction and not knowing
what tomorrow would bring. The Martian dawn came so yawningly slow to
these two lonely and reluctant would-be warriors. Even so they were
forced to remain in their shelter for several more hours until the
temperature rose considerably.
their heated suits if turned up high enough would protect them when
they ventured outside again. Nando called in to say that the rest of
the team would soon be on their way. They checked their Zendrons and
waited once again. Breakfast was mildly good and all the pair could do
inside the shelter was to wait a little longer. The game was almost
pair was outside and ready to see the flash of the flares being set off
by the team over towards the Liberty. Wolf was concentrating and
looking through his binoculars when it occurred. It was almost an hour
later when the flares exploded upwards and they were soon followed by
the sound of the Zendrons echoing across the rugged landscape. His
first move was at hand. He waited for the reaction to that play.
‘We’re out of here Chief. We’ll be with you in twenty minutes. And it’s over and out now from here.’
was Nando informing Wolf that that they were leaving the vicinity of
the American craft. As Brigette and Wolf scanned the horizon they first
saw another flash and then followed the sounds of the K7 opening up.
Once again it could be noted that the K7 was firing from a position
between them and the Liberty. Was this also where the Americans were
then? Too many questions once again.
Nando, Helmut and Barbara were already mobile in the Rover. As per
their express orders they had got away very quickly after they had
employed the flares. And quite wisely they were firing the Zendrons
while they moved in the Rover. For certain they were not taking a
chance that the robot might pin them down with his withering firepower.
got away cleanly without seeing the warrior robot and carefully worked
their way through the torturous arroyos navigating by celestial
readings as they went. It would as Nando had said, take them
approximately twenty minutes to reach Brigette and
Wolf wasn’t all that certain about what he should do next until the
rest of his team arrived, so he did almost nothing. They would have the
firepower of the collective four Zendrons and Brigette on the SL
blaster. But they were nearly all fairly close range weapons really. As
they had already discovered the robot’s range seemed to be something of
the order of at least a thousand yards. There was nothing to be done
about that except for deception.
would have to play it very softly, softly and keep their heads down.
Would the robot detect that the Rover was circling around to his
position? And if it did detect this would the robot come after them?
This was the crucial question for Wolf now.
It was Brigette who saw the team from the Rover first. In a fine voice, which rang with joy she said quite aloud.
‘Hey it’s them Wolf they made it chief. They are coming!’
looked down the arroyo towards the bend and they saw them waving.
Helmut was out at point as he fronted around the bend and his own
Zendron was up and poised at the ready just lie the manual tells us.
Following orders again, they had left the Rover just out of sight
around the bend. They silently hailed the gleeful Brigette when they
saw her. At least with the exception of Francois, they were together
went on to tell them that he wanted Barbara to join them at this
position and Nando and Helmut to return to the point of where the
arroyo turned about twenty five metres behind their own position.. They
could take cover there behind another set of smaller but well sited set
would achieve two things in Wolf’s opinion. Firstly it would give the
team another field of direct fire. It would hammer the robot from
directly down the arroyo . If the robot came at them from any other
direction, then quite possibly all was lost. That is, if he came at all.
gathered up a flare and hurried past the covered pit and when he had
traveled some twenty metres more he pulled the pin on it and hurled the
flare as far as he could down the arroyo. Of course none of this would
mean anything at all if the robot didn’t move on them sometime soon.
They could not sustain their position for very long at all.
was thoroughly convinced that the robot, being a tracked machine could
not possibly cover the rugged terrain across country. They themselves
would have found it torturously nigh impossible on foot. And so now
they waited once more.
were as ready as they ever would be and they sweated there in that
freezing cold atmosphere. The over layer bullet proof plate protection
they wore made them itch unbearably. And so it was that the astronauts
lay there uncomfortably on top of the ridge.
They were all staring hard the burning flare lying on the floor of the gulch, each of them full of their private thoughts.
ten and then almost a full thirty minutes had passed without even a
peep. During this tense wait Wolf contacted Francois back at the
Ithica. All was quiet on the Itican front.
like a no show then Wolf.’ No sooner had Brigette got the words out
when slamming into the ridge tops once more came the whuck and further
whuck, whuck, sounds ripping into the ridge tops. The sight of the
spurting ridge tops came quickly on top of the loud reports of the K7
firing at them.
was nearby to them now then. Metallic spangs and whines of the heavy
calibre metallic missiles bouncing of the rocks a metre or two above
Brigette’s sweet head had her nosing down into red dust once again.
Wolf got onto Helmut and Nando on the other side of the arroyo. He was
keen to warn them of the approach
the fire is coming from a spot further along the arroyo. I reckon that
it’s highly likely that he’s approaching us from the direction we hoped
he would. And he must have registered you as heading over this way. I
can’t see him yet nor can I tell you his position.
nothing Nando even if you see him first. Do not, repeat do not open
fire. And if and when we open fire do not reveal yourself for a while.
I must protect our position to see that Brigette can have the chance to
use the rock blaster on the thing. You are our backup and the ace in
the hole. Repeat when we open up keep your heads down for the time
being Nando. Do you read me?’
acknowledged his commander and then leant out to give Wolf the
universal thumbs up sign. But something worried Wolf now. For suddenly,
it came to him that the robot was not firing at them from the floor of
the arroyo at all. There was more incoming fire now and the trajectory
of the robot’s fire as it simply not high enough. Put another way, the
high caliber bullets were pouring in at too level a trajectory. They
were coming at a flattish angle just above their heads all the time.
top of this, the damn machine was still nowhere in sight. In order for
the robot to gain this field of fire the thing had to be a slightly
higher level than the floor level of the arroyo. That was a certainty
he thought. So perhaps the killer machine was coming across the ridges
of the arroyos at them. If it was, how was it possible for the tracked
robot to do this? It was not to be the last time that the warrior robot
was to surprise them.
did not have to wait for so very long to prove that he’d be right about
this either. Brigette saw the thing coming before he did. It was indeed
heading for them traversing the ridges and humps instead of tracking
along the arroyo floor. At first this made no sense at all to them,
until Wolf put the binoculars up to his eyes. To his surprise the
robot’s set of tracks seemed to have slid upwards and tucked out of the
way and had been replaced by a very sturdy pair of metal legs.
drove the metal man forward ponderously but effectively enough. The
robot would soon be upon them in a matter of minutes if the thing was
not stopped. Wolf could see that for the moment they were still well
sheltered behind the boulders. But that protection would not last for
long. He turned to Brigette.
‘Ok Brigette and try toremember your own advice girl and aim low. Fire as soon as you reckon it’s in range.’
Then he alerted Nando and Helmut across the arroyo on air.
‘Can you see it Nando?’
And when Nando replied in the affirmative he said,
Nando, it’s too late now for finesse, so fire at will. Oh and have
Helmut at the ready to bring up the Rover if we have to get away in a
damn hurry will you?’
was lying down at full length to operate the rock blasting SL and aimed
with a fixed purpose while Wolf alerted the others to their danger.
Wolf was now loosing off rounds from his Zendron at a measured rate.
Nothing could be told about the effectiveness of his fire and the robot
kept on coming at them. Barbara too was also firing and now for only a
moment, the warrior robot seemed to pause if assessing what it should
do next. Again it started to trundle slowly forward.
Brigette pressed the button on the blaster and even though she had
deliberately aimed it low, the force passed harmlessly over the top of
the robot. It was a very eerie thing too, for the rock blaster made no
sound at all unless it made contact with a solid. There was kind of
moving glow to trace the SL’s trajectory through the thin atmosphere
but no sound could be heard at all.
blaster operated off a heavy bank of a special set of batteries and
needed no reloading. Brigette quickly lowered the blasters muzzle a
fraction and froze herself calmly into position beside the machine. She
fired again and a sound reverberated back as the jet fighter’s eye
improved now. This time the glowing force tore into the ridge just to
one side of the oncoming robot.
was returning at them again heavily now and rock was splintering all
around their heads. The robot also registered the incoming fire from
Nando and Helmut’s position so a little pressure was suddenly taken
away from Wolf’s redoubt, as the machine streamed fire across the
had learnt from the first two shots she had fired and quick learner she
was, the soundless force when next she fired could be seen as a glow
again as it tore away a piece of the ridge just where the robot’s next
step was aimed at. This time there was another resounding noise.
shot had missed the robot but had struck the oxided rocks just before
the robot’s feet and disturbing rocks at the ridge’s edge. The robot
was still firing downwards at Nando’s position as it lost it’s forward
momentum. Then the K7 balanced perilously for just one breathtaking
moment almost regaining the impetus needed to go forward again.
then as if in a slow motion film it slipped to it’s left and toppled
down the sides of the steep arroyo. The metal man may have rolled over
two or three times as it fell down the precipitous ridge. Finally it
ended up at the base of the ridge and then with a final tumble it came
to a halt on the floor of the arroyo. They couldn’t tell yet if the
robot was down for the count but there was no movement at all.
Nando moved forward a little to another set of smaller rocks to firing
rounds from his Zendron at the seemingly lifeless warrior robot. Sparks
could easily be seen as the rounds tore at the robot spread on the
arroyo’s floor and spun off uselessly into the Martian atmosphere.
Brigette saw that the elevation of her blaster was far too high to
establish a suitable field of fire now.
didn’t panic but quickly signaled Wolf to help her both swivel and
lower the muzzle of the weighty SL blaster as she kicked at the lever
in order to de-elevate the blaster’s muzzle. They also needed to move
further to the right around the side of the boulder to be out of harms
way from further fire.
hastily adjusted the blaster pointing it downward and repositioning it
so the boulder once again afforded them cover. The robot was now on the
far side of the disguised pit. But not a movement had it made for
almost thirty seconds. It looked quite intact. Had the fall damaged the
machine’s computer chips and a severe malfunction had now set in? Was
it now kaput and the ridge battle was over and won?
one dynamically swift move they had their sudden answer. All of sudden
the robot righted itself and commenced firing mercilessly at Nando as
it swung upwards. Nando who was just bobbing up after he had loosed off
his rounds was exposed for that exact fraction of time. He was flung
backwards in a horrible jerking way by the brute force of the streaming
line of most accurate fire.
retraced his steps to clumsily stoop down over his fallen comrade.
Helmut fleetingly felt quite certain quite that he was holding a corpse
there and then. But he was wrong for Nando’s body suddenly gave a few
ultra heaves and thrusts and was obviously conscious. Helmut the
started to half lift and half drag Nando away from the direction of the
robotic fire but he was still in the line of fire. The Robot came on at
this time Brigette was again lying down and sighting the SL at the
acute angle down into the arroyo. She fired but the angle caused her to
undershoot her first shot. The shot hit the bed of the arroyo some
metre and a half in front of the killer machine. Wolf had started to
reach for his Zendron as soon as he saw the fallen Nando.
robot swiveled around to unleash a bloody and murderous hail of fire up
towards Brigette’s position. Without flinching Brigette calmly put the
robot in her sights again and fired a second shot downwards. This time
the force struck the robot three quarters on to it’s main body
structure, pushing it back wards and sideways the towards the covered
pit a metre or two away. And then took more steps and obligingly
tumbled into the pit they had dug.
rock blasting weapon that Brigette had just fired toppled over after
her last shot. Brigette then swung her body free from the tumbling
weapon and managed to scramble away from it. But Nando was still lying
there wounded down below and Helmut could do no more then bunker
himself down to one side as the robot fired down the line.
was also in grave danger for although Bridgette’s shot had struck hard
again, the remorseless metal thing was still almost intact for the
now did something which was never to be forgotten among all among who
happened to be there that day. She was still above the robot up
in her position with Wolf. She swiveled around and seized up her
Zendron and before Wolf could draw a breath he saw that Bridgette was
half sliding and half skiing down the slope of the arroyo. She had
taken up her Zendron and was firing at first from the hip aimed at the
non sentient object in the pit.
still the robot continued to fire. Sparks red oxide dust spurts and
smoke began to issue from the pit at a furious rate. It might be in a
dying mode but it was not yet a non living non sentient.
pit’s edges were often torn off as the bullets tore into the trap’s
vertical lips at the tops. But now the firing was rendered useless for
the firing angle from the reasonably deep pit was now too high for the
robot to do much damage. Unless you were close enough to the edge that
is. But Bridgette had not appreciated this small fact.
landed quite softly down at bottom of the flat surface of the
arroyo. All she was really aware of was that a hail of fire was
still happening and the wounded Nando was still down and in danger. He
was also still in the open too.
across towards the fallen Nando, Bridgette created a final and freakish
window of opportunity for the killer machine. In a cruel last moment as
she headed for Nando she came across the line of where the firing could
get away from the rim of the pit.
as it was, the robot must have been able to sense this. It managed fire
off precisely three rounds. Nando said that he was stunned but
perfectly conscious. Later on he told them that the first rounds had
missed her completely. But then she made that fatal and final error.
turned her body to pause to fire back at the machine as she stood
there. The next shots slammed into her body hard and Bridgette fell
immediately with her Zendron spinning away from her in a flipping
motion. As she went down Nando thought her call out something aloud.
try as the poor guy did he could not say what those words might have
been. He reckoned that he’d seen a slight raise of dust as she breathed
out hard as if it was something like her last word. And that was it.
And he believed forever that had she kept on running towards him, the
K7 might have missed her altogether. And it was quite likely that she
was as good as dead before she hit the rusty red dirt of Mars.
shooting sparks continued to be seen darting upwards still and the
smoke from the pit was becoming steadily darker with black smoke. The
robot was surely and steadily destroying itself with it’s ill aimed
continuous firing into the pit for the main.
warrior robot’s circuitry was doomed by now and with a final wrenching
and scraping of metal and some stuttering noises, which might have come
from voice circuits dying out, thing in the pit was no longer a
was now simply nothing but dead wiring, computer chips and a dull
looking and smoking tangle of glowing lumps of metal crumpled into a
red pit. The ridge battle was now finally over.
the first person that they all thought of was the two down in the dust.
Wolf was the first to reach Brigette who was not so far from the fuming
pit. He leaned over to her as she lay there. But even before he touched
her he knew she was unable to be saved.
They gathered Nando up and saw just how lucky he had been. The robot’s shot had stuck his Zendron in his hands full on.
had taken a small slice out of his jaw, blown him backwards and laid
him low. In essence he was merely stunned and shaken. But he was
shaking all over after what he’d just seen. Wolf inspected him and
thought that he was reasonably fit to carry on with some aid.
who saw this action were not in any doubt about Brigette’s role in
helping to save Nando. He’d been lying at a higher stage than the floor
of the arroyo and the robot was thought to have been able to target
him. Luck’s always is a fortune I guess but there was just not enough
luck to go round for all of them. It just was not Brigette’s day.
Chapter Twenty-two. You can’t always get what you want
time Wolf rode the Rover by clinging onto the back of the vehicle. The
others were aboard with the body and none could speak. Brigette’s body
rode with them. It was awkwardly squeezed into the Rover. It was only a
very short distance to the American craft now. Possibly it was no more
than a mere three hundred metres from the shelter but even so the
roaring winds had descended upon them with three hundred blows before
they got inside.
they all would have wanted to hurriedly enter the American’s craft via
their elevator. But they all looked at each other. Most of them were in
tears and did not know what to do with poor Bridgette’s body. In the
end they bodily carted her body up with them and into the ship. Several
of them were in tears and in total disarray for a long time.
all passed through the open airlock and into the ship. The storm could
blow all it liked for some time now. They placed her reverently in one
of the spacious empty cells and looked at each other. And still not too
many words were spoken.
were all distraught, and they still had to keep their air suits on.
Things were crap but they had their lives and they at least felt that
they might be safe here for the time being.
they must keep their air suits on, they drank and ate using the vacuum
feeders built into the air suit backpacks. Liquid nourishment was
pumped up to their mouths on demand as they rested. The astronauts
called them vacuum feeders because they mad e a tiny noise inside their
helmets like a vacuum cleaner back on Earth. They also folded out neck
and head supports from their packs. These were designed to support
their helmeted heads when they were at rest with their full helmeted
air suits on.
wasn’t a perfect way to sleep by any means and it did need practice to
be able to fall asleep using them, but they had used them in training
often and they were almost perfectly acclimatized to the things by now.
Acclimatized that is, for almost everything except the death of
probably the most beloved of all their own.
control rooms and the take-off room were constructed as part of a giant
gymbal which unless locked into place, would automatically come to a
horizontal position vis a vis the pull of gravity inside the craft. The
users, which would of course normally be the NASA astronauts could be
upright inside the ship. And lying down would be exactly that as would
indeed it was a very simple but an ingenious solution for a craft that
was designed to land in an upright position. It had taken a lot of fine
engineering and Yankee know-how to build it that way too. It seemed
that the living quarters in the nose of the craft were similarly
designed as well.
were all just so very tired. The adrenaline of the desperate battle had
drained each and every one of them .The stunned and extremely lucky
Nando Parucci was the first of them to drop asleep where he lay. Prior
to this Nando had to be restrained when he followed Wolf into the awful
cell where the once beautiful and foolishly brave Frenchwoman lay. They
almost dragged the poor man out.
others covered Nando up carefully when they brought him out. And
outside the ship, darkness reigned supreme over the vast Plains of
Tharsis. The storm had blocked out all contact with Francois back at
the Ithica and therefore all possibility of speaking to Jean Alois as
well. It was plain enough that the storm still raged on unabated
outside as they settled down. At first it was the dark of the oxide sun
blocking swirls, and then a little later on the Martian night
was not long before most of them were fast asleep in their
cocooned situation. They were situated either in the Liberty’s control
room, or lying on the comfortable take-off seats. Meanwhile the stars
crawled widdershins across the heavens. Even if any of these fine
European astronauts could have peeped out of the American craft through
one of it’s few portholes they would see nary a one of these stars
above them. The red dust had blanketed them out.
so very soon, the same stars looked down mercilessly on them where they
lay enveloped wholly in that violent Martian storm of dust and flying
woke up with a start. Her heart seemed to be pounding. Perhaps she had
been dreaming about Earth. It was one of those inexplicable night
sweats. And at first she could not make out where on earth she was.
Then it all clicked into place once again and she thought of Bridgette.
The Liberty; that damn NASA ship....Hell and that’s where I am she
thought. She warily rose up off the padded astronaut’s take off seat
that had served as her bed and looked around her rather nervously. They
would have to take care of the body today.
something woken her up then? She wasn’t sure and once again she
attempted to penetrate the semi gloom in the take-off room of the
American spacecraft. She could make out the noise of the Martian dust
storm outside the strong hull of the Liberty. So the storm had not
abated yet. But had there been some other noise as well that had woken
her up? Then slowly, little by little, she made out the form of Wolf
seemed to be fast asleep and as she got up from she attempted not to
make a sound. He deserved all the rest that he could get and tenderness
on Barbara’s part meant that she see him lie there comfortably if she
it was of no use for Wolf was suddenly awake as well. He shook his
handsome head at her. A small shaft of light shone through from the
door leading to the control room. She saw that he had a three day beard
and that underneath his helmet his hair was starting to look too long.
It was one of the real if the smallest of the recent penalties of their
strange profession. God knows what my bloody nails look like she
suddenly thought. Things had been very weird here all right.
‘Hey Babs, some coffee would be nice, don’t you think?
yawned and looked confidently around him quite unlike the way that
Barbara had been acting just seconds ago. He looked up at the cecius
clock on the wall of the take-off room. And he noted that they
had been asleep for five hours. She went over to him silently. His eyes
danced just a little as she approached him.
he realized that he would not be able to have that coffee that he
yearned for. They spoke of the necessary burial. Secondly they
discussed the matter that it was time for them to activate their
personal body waste disposal systems. That was quite an urgent matter
really. Even if it happen that poor Brigette did lay there in that grey
and cold cell below them.
also remembered that he had forgotten to brief his team on what he had
seen or not seen in the shelter. It had been more than enough for them
to be skeltering off in a madcap hurry to the Liberty. Of course they
had been under the sudden threat of the dust storm at the time. They
had all of them been so tired, including him for that matter too. He
had just simply forgotten to say another word about what he had seen in
there. He got up and felt his way through the semi gloom to switch on a
‘Ah that’s much better.
said as he went back to where Barbara was standing. And it was as if
she had read his mind about the Americans in the shelter.
please tell me; what did you see inside the Yank’s emergency shelter
then? You have said nothing of it to us at all you know.’
He looked suddenly serious then replied openly and in a quiet tone.
I know Babs and perhaps I should have too. I had been thinking that I
was just too damn tired and distracted before. After the battle I mean
and I guess I knew that I should have said something before. Things had
gone awry for the Americans in that shelter as well I reckon Barbara.
was stuff inside scattered about. It was not at all orderly, just as it
had been in this craft too. It was mess As I told you all there was
nobody in there but what’s even more important, there was no sign of
the emergency breathing equipment taken from the Ithica. They were not
seemed just about on the brink to say something more but suddenly he
fell silent. And Barbara had been attending his words so carefully and
she thought that he was just about to add something more. She waited
for a moment or two before saying,
think that we are both on the same wavelength here Wolf. There is still
one place that we have not looked for them you know Wolf. And I think
that it’s in your mind right at this moment too. I mean the living
quarters that we couldn’t get into before. But we have the voice code
password now you will remember Wolf. Maybe we should have gone up there
a bit earlier on too. Time will most likely be just so precious for
them, but I don’t need to tell you that do I?’
simply nodded his agreement. Then he told her wholeheartedly that he
agreed with what she said one hundred percent. And he also said that he
believed that they should both go and rouse Helmut directly. They would
inform him that they were about to go to the ‘pointy end’ to look for
they would need to bury poor Bridgette temporarily at the base of the
Liberty. Possibly immediately next to the American Commander’s body.
next job would be continue to try and raise Francois even though it was
obviously going to be difficult to do it because of the continued
howling storm outside. He would also have to stay awake and monitor
their progress up the quite dangerous climb up through the vast engine
rooms of the Liberty to the nose of the ship. There was simply no
putting off this task anymore
they woke Helmut up in the adjoining control room, he wanted to
accompany them both in their search. But Wolf pointed out that somebody
had to remain here on the alert as there backup. Nando would probably
serve them best by not being woken. It would be best for them to
recharge his flagging body batteries with the gift of precious sleep
right now. As a precaution for the NASA people, they bundled up three
breather kits in one bag and one in another for Barbara to tote and
they were almost ready to go.
Barbara and Wolf set out through the upper hatch towards the huge space
of the engine room above them. They were armed with the two powerful
flashlights, and the Zendron carried by the commander.
carried the weapon strapped across his back together with the bulk of
the pack containing the three emergency breathing units. Wolf had even
pondered carefully whether or not he should take that weapon at all.
he suppose that any astronauts who might be holed up there would be
aggressive as their bloody warrior robot had been? Times were weird and
things had changed and that’s all he knew. Once through the upper hatch
they put their feet to the first rungs of that very long ladder.
ascended sometimes flashing their torches as they climbed. They found
themselves checking each footstep most assiduously. Just as before, a
fall here would certainly mean sudden death.
darkness can be your friend but not in this space I think. There metal
capped boots clanged and re-clanged in a series of vibrating echoes as
their toes clipped the rungs as they climbed.
had traveled together through an infinitely vaster space in a fairly
cramped spacecraft for well over fifteen months. They had traveled so
far together, both physically and emotionally. And both of them had
willingly enough left their crumbling but beloved Gaia behind them and
unfortunately had to face the ugly and fearful face of Mars on this red
and dusty planet. And they had together witnessed many giant stars and
their attendant planetary systems go spinning to their doom on the way
from ‘there to here’ but never, never had they felt like this. The NASA
warrior robot had twice almost destroyed them too.
as frightened as they had been under heavy fire from the metal monster
up on the ridge, this was somehow a more intangible unknown than they
had met before. And they could not have uttered what it was that was
knowing it might be then, only made it so much the worse for them. It
was of course in part, the heaviness of the primeval darkness
surrounding them that gripped at their minds with an irrational force
of a tugging fear. There was no antidote for what they were feeling
right now. Dark inks of the fact they it was difficult for them to make
out a thing to the side of that was not captured by the flickered beams
of their torch lights.
could only make out a vast emptiness among the mass of foreign looking
tubes and curving manifolds of giant but ultimately unknown
eyes constantly fooled them. They could not have said what it was drove
the ship for one moment. That worried them once again. And another
darkness, which emanated from their lack of understanding exactly what
it was that e filled these cavernous spaces made them falter now. The
grey slate of reason was rapidly turning into fiery Catherine wheels of
doubt and speculation.
velvet darkness of the feelings that came from the very close couple’s
most imaginative minds was ever present here. There were vaults of
darkness in both spaces then. These dark vaults caused them to fear a
reeling notion. A want or shall we say, a completely irrational need to
let go of their grasp of the ladder. To meet a mad need to merely let
one’s body drop away.
be flung away from the solid of everything. And the feeling in it’s
turn caused a vertigious fear of spinning or dropping from their hard
won holds on the rungs of the ladder as they slowly, slowly inched
their way, hauling and leg lifting and ever upwards. It was
useless to say don’t look down for they simply could not see back down
the ladder they were climbing.
went on rung clinging hand over hand towards the bow of the craft to
seek what they knew not. Wolf’s progress up in the lead was more
awkward than Barbara’s was, because of the combined bulk of the weapon
and his bulky pack.
managed to knock the torch in his left hand against a rung of the
ladder. The metal torch suddenly went spinning out of his grasp, just
brushing by Barbara’s head below him.
made a loud and echoing clang against a rung below her where it stuck
and then continued flipping out downwards into the void. They heard a
thudded smashing when it reached the floor a hundred metres below them.
This was followed swiftly by the tinkling sound of metal shards and
pieces spreading around. And then there was
what seemed to be ages they halted in front of the voice-coded hatchway
at the top of the vast engine room. Wolf rested up for a while catching
his breath before Barbara shone their remaining torch towards the
darkly knobbed or studded door. She reminded him that the code for the
door was supposed to be ‘Jefferson’.
‘You say it will you please Babs. I swear that it might prefer your voice to mine. I do in any case.’
any hesitation she uttered the name of the learned Virginian planter of
everlasting fame and waited, rather hoping in some ways that the code
wouldn’t work. Barbara was not entirely sure that she wanted to know
what lay beyond this door at all. Perhaps we could turn around right
a click accompanied by a very low buzzing sound saw the door slowly
opening inwards now. Wolf thought that the sound was not likely to be
heard by a person inside but then the door could likely have some alarm
or signifier attached to it.
it was too late to back away now thought Barbara. And suddenly as the
door slid to one side, plashing beams of bright light blinded both of
them momentarily. Silence reigned for a few seconds now as they
regained their composure.
pair quickly shielded their eyes from the light with their arms and
then Wolf quickly recovered to unsling his Zendron. He locked and
loaded it and shifted the load of the emergency breather kits from his
shoulder. He gently laid these down on the floor of the entrance.
kept a hold of the single breathing unit that she had slung across her
back. Those damn weapons again she was thinking and when will this
nightmare ever end? And then Wolf spoke her more quietly and far more
reassuringly than he truly felt inside.
going in now after I contact the others down below Barbara. I want you
to remain here for the now please. I reckon that I will call out when
you should follow me. Or if not, I will return for you.’
Their eyes locked for that brief penetrating moment and she shook her head.
Wolf I’m going in with you. You couldn’t pay me to stay in this creepy
vault of a place alone. As you already know I am not full of that stuff
they call the red badge of courage. I’m bloody well scared. And besides
that you have our only weapon remember? So, if you are thinking of
protecting me, you might be able to do it better if we are standing
looked at the Zendron he had carried in a cross armed position. He
nodded his agreement silently and said not another word on the
matter. Instead he contacted the others further down below.
simply told them that they were both about to enter the living quarters
at the ‘pointy end’ of the Liberty. It was a routine safety procedure
and nothing more. Wolf also discovered that the storm still prevented
them from contacting Francois and there was nothing more that they
could do until the storm abated.
he shifted the Zendron down to aim it ahead of them both and waited
until he She was right at that too he thought. Soon they were ready to
move. He started off but once again she shook her head urgently. She
reached over and unhooked the bag containing the rest of the emergency
breathing sets from Wolf’s shoulder.
would give him an untrammeled freedom to control the Zendron. He said
nothing again but merely gave Barbara the thumbs up sign before he
moved with the weapon slowly waving before him.
so silently, carefully they proceeded through the doorway. They could
see nothing but a blank wall before them as a blind corner that was
immediately before them. It was but a small corridor’s width from where
they stood at the hatchway.
Wolf was in the lead walking warily and steadily with the Zendron
readied as they stepped through the hatchway and then turned around the
blind corner. They had not got further than a dozen paces when Barbara
told Wolf that there was movement somewhere up ahead of them. She was
reading off a reliable air pressure alarm installed in her airsuit.
was quite effective up to a distance of some hundred metres and she was
confident in her readings. Somebody or something was moving up ahead of
them. Barbara reckoned that they were probably as close as the next
was another door just ahead of them now. Unlike the front door near the
ladder, this door was wide open. Wolf did the cavalry arm movement
without uttering a syllable. Again they stopped and listened as
carefully as the air suits would allow them to do. It seemed an
eternity to Barbara before Wolf moved again.
breathing was heavy now. Her breasts rose and fell too quickly under
her suit and she felt not a little suffocated in these cursed chambers.
She knew full well that it was just the adrenalin pumping up into her
system but that knowledge did not change one single iota of her
insecurity in here.
could only see Wolf’s back from her position. They had talk talked
about having a child when they returned to their own sloppy little
planet. In fact Barbara had once met Wolf’s son. He had brought him
down from his home in the United States to the ESA spaceport in French
Guiana for a holiday and also to see the Argo before they took off in
had not been hard to like the lad. He was all that a boy of eleven
years of age who had been quite well educated might have been. Perhaps
the separation had caused the boy some emotional hardships, but if that
was true he did not seem to show it visibly.
here they were prowling around this damn American spaceship, chasing
after those survivors who by their own actions had caused them so much
‘Hardships you bastards,’
was what her own father often used to say back in Sussex. He meant you
will never know what hardships I have seen and it’s a good thing that
you will never have to either. Now she was being tested and not for the
first time. Under heavy fire from the cursed warrior robot hadn’t been
such a picnic either but her nerves were being severely tested once
more right now.
the pair stepped into the next cabin there, came a blood curdling and
full on screaming from a figure, who presented before them. A female
astronaut or so it would seem, if you used your imagination. Her hair
was extremely long, her face distorted and her eyes behind the
emergency breathing mask were definitely not of this world. She was
truly a figure of both abject sorrow and pitiful to behold with what
her face told them both.
Chapter Twenty-three. And the Stars Look Down
was disconcertingly staring hard at Wolf and Barbara now with her dark
ringed and all too dull eyes. She uttered not one syllable though.
Something shiny and long dangled down from her right hand by her side
but Barbara could not make out what the object was.
it was almost certain that those eyes were not full of anything like
concentration. For it was far, far too late for that. Her eyes were
full of that mixture of vacancy and despair that informs you of a human
being who has lost their power of reason. And this was the certainly
the case here with this NASA astronaut so far from Cape Kennedy.
times the figure attempted to say something out aloud through her
speaker system, which appeared to be switched on. But always she failed
to utter the words that were inutterably trapped within her. The female
astronaut haltingly started to take a step or two towards Wolf who had
lowered his Zendron.
she stopped slowly coming to a halt before him. And he could read the
name emblazoned across her uniform. It read Dr. Terri Morgan. Wolf knew
that this woman was 33 years old. She looked more than thirty years
older than that right at this moment.
appeared to practice to say the words which would not come once, twice
and then three times she mouthed something which did not hit the air.
Her skin was moist with sweat and she trembled mightily. Her throat
moved and her chest heaved a little as words finally crept painfully
out of her quivering mouth.
‘You know...I ...I had to...I put them to sleep.’
She said these words all over again. And then she said.....
‘I just put them to sleep. I......’
then with an unholy moan, the woman collapsed to the floor in a huddle
with her arms fling out wide and a syringe tumbled from her extended
right hand to the cabin floor. And in a manner of speaking the woman
was correct for shortly after Wolf afterwards Wolf and Barbara
discovered two more of the Americans.
as you have already guessed, they were stone dead and almost cold as
stone as well. Barbara quickly swapped the woman’s breathing apparatus
for one of those she was carrying. The woman was still breathing, but
only lightly. When she propped her up her breathing improved
noticeably. It seemed then as if she would live.
found two more astronauts in there. And they were both of them had been
dead for about an hour perhaps. Their breathing masks lay tangled and
useless beside them. Both of them had not died particularly well it
was just killing Wolf to think how near they had been to saving them.
He also wondered why they had not heard them when they had climbed up
the spacecraft the very first time. Perhaps he thought, they had simply
bodies looked unkempt and highly shabby. There were cuts and bruises to
be seen in abundance and food stains were most obvious over their faces
and their once neat uniforms. But at least now they were beyond caring
about all that kind of stuff. Dr Terri Morgan looked not all that much
better than the two people that she had ‘put to sleep’ either.
of the bodies lay on a bed and the other had somehow also slumped onto
the floor of the next cabin. And it was not such a pretty sight to see.
It was not all that hard to guess what had happened. They had been
indeed euthanized by the lady. Something like you might doto an
old Labrador dog say. She had indeed, ‘put them to sleep where they
‘Home is the hunter from over the hill.’
was kneeling down by the body of the American astronaut. She knelt down
close beside her on the floor and Barbara was speaking softly now.
‘Home is the hunter from over the hill.’
She said this lowly as if to herself.
‘What did you say there Babs?’
‘And the sailor from over the sea.’
was of course quoting Robert Louis Stevenson’s own epitaph on the
island of Western Samoa in the South Pacific. She had lat heard it when
Wolf had said the verse over the NASA Commander’s rough grave by the
side of the Liberty.
month or two was it, or only days then? These last days had all been a
nightmare for certain. Wolf covered the bodies up with blankets he took
from the living quarter beds. The one lying on the floor was certainly
Hans Bonhoffer. And the body lying stretched out on the bed was the
biologist-astronaut June Carley, aged roughly 38.
these NASA astronauts had faces that were almost universally
recognized. And yes they were indeed famous human beings. Famous but
dead all of them were. That is excepting for the one missing astronaut.
For they had now accounted for five of the American astronauts of whom
they knew for sure only one of them lived. Sam Fuller the Virginian
poet and astronaut was the only one that was not yet accounted for by
them. So was Sam Fuller also in the ship at this moment then, thought
Wolf? Was he dead too?
both searched the space most carefully but there was nary a sign of
that Virginian. If he was somewhere on the Liberty he certainly did not
appear to be in the living quarters at least. It might also be said
that it would have been nigh on impossible to search every inch of the
next step was to start planning to get Dr Terri Morgan back to
safety as soon as possible. Getting her down the ladder would be quite
a trick thought Barbara. In fact they all had to get back to the Ithica
as soon as the dust storm would allow them. They were not on clover at
all right now.
they did manage to rouse Dr Terri Morgan a little. And by means of
ropes and slings and the help from those below, they did get her down
the long and dark Jacob’s ladder to the others. It took an hour
to do it and it was a lucky thing that it took no more than that.
dust storm had abated some by now but darkness was falling. They He
joined the patient with the broken leg back in the Ithica and made
Terri Morgan as comfortable as possible but they knew that there was
little that they could do for her.
a way but slowly, their lives slowly came back to what might be said to
normality if living and working on the Red Planet could be seen that
way. They never did manage to find Sam Fuller by the way. He was
assumed to be dead but no further proof of this was ever discovered.
His ghost kind of lingered on over the second for the duration.
the little that they could establish from the semi coherent Terri
Morgan, it was thought that Fuller would not leave the emergency
shelter after the rest of them had quit it.
none of them did have the strength to drag him out to go with them when
they returned to the Liberty. Terri Morgan told them that many things
had gotten terribly confused about that time when they returned to the
‘pointy end’ of the giant ship.
he had got himself lost out there somewhere in the ‘badlands’. As I
said he was never seen again by anybody from earth. And to this
day there is a separate marker to his memory on the Tharsis Plains in
sight of massive Mons Olympus.
a little time Dr Terri Morgan appeared to be slowly recovering her
shattered health over a period of a fortnight to three weeks.
tale was a most harrowing one and will not be entered to here in detail
by myself. Her heart was not what it should be for instance. All I will
say is that their basic problems had always stemmed from the breakdown
in their oxygen supply.
Terri Morgan always did marvel at the dwarf wheat plant system used by
the Europeans. For of course she knew only too well, that what had
occurred to her NASA team would never have been if they had employed
this rather primitive but highly effective mode.
should mention here that Dr Terri Morgan never made it back to Earth.
After seeming to improve in heath, she expired some few days before
they lifted off.
never could really establish exactly what her symptoms were. In the end
I suppose it did not matter. But Wolf went down on record as saying
that shock will kill right enough and terror might even do a better job
at it too.
she died she told them that taking in nourishment while they were using
emergency breather systems had always been a huge problem. You could
whip off your mask for just a moment or two to ingest foodstuffs, but
it was always a gasping and dangerous, choking affair. You wouldn’t
asphyxiate until something like 45 to 50 seconds perhaps.
one always felt that you might die at any choking, gasping moment. It
was damn tough. All of them had to be so damn quick about the
process of shoveling food into their gasping mouths. That is before
they quickly rammed the breather back over your mouth.
many weeks of this and after the deaths of two of their number, they
were all of them at the very end of their tether. And so it had come to
Dr Terri Morgan being compelled to use the terrible needle. And there
is not all that much left to tell you after that about the NASA team.
also informed them of the likely reason that her stricken team in the
nose cone had not heard Wolf and the others as they climbed up the
giant spaceship for the first time.
probable reason was that they had all taken heavy sleeping doses in
order to use the least amount of oxygen. And to give them some respite
from their terrible ordeal.
due time, the Argo blasted away from the fourth planet and got the
European team back home on that medium sized and bluish planet
and Barbara made it through to old age while living in Sussex. Wolf was
offered the director’s job to replace his crusty old Parisian protégée
but finally he decided to turn it down for the quiet life of a scholar.
he never ever did live to regret that move either. And the Standard
Martian Calendar on Earth to this day is the one that Wolf created
before he went to the Red Planet. Barbara and he did have children in
fact. Two of them to be exact and they were both girls. There names
were Karen Michelle and Jaqueline Victoria..
of course the Ithica was left there to rot almost under the shadow of
the giant volcano Mons Olympus. It helped to sustain a generation of
explorers of the red planet to come. It housed up to maybe thirty early
explorers at a time. But that was before the dirty days of the mining
of the planet yet to come.
enough over time the old Ithica was gradually replaced with a more
modern and a much more sophisticated system. But it had never let one
astronaut down, ever.
Liberty sat there rusting down into the red oxides of that dusty planet
and the giant ship never again moved one more centimeter more. It was
turned into a kind of almost religious monument by successive
explorers. And if you go there it still can be viewed to this very day.
it was only quite natural that Wolf made certain that Robert Louis
Stevenson’s most touching epithaph was engraved there beside Commander
Tom Glenn’s lonely graveside in the red soil of Mars.
no nation did ever take another robot on a ship into space be they a
warrior type or not. Although there was a recent rumour that China was
considering taking on a much longer journey but that was kept more or
less entirely secret.
it was being proposed that among all their crew aboard their vessel,
only a robot would be ‘living’ when the craft arrived at Jupiter. The
mere humans would have expended their life cycles to promote a robot’s
existence in some other part of the universe.
they did that, it would be the deathless triumph of machine over man at
last. And still the stars will continue to look relentlessly down on us
humans. If there are any left ere on earth that is.
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