By Robert Kingston
Not all that
long ago, a young man from our school wrote a story. It was a silly story about
baked-bean monsters, but it used an interesting idea. He used the names of the
people in our class. A lot of people thought this was a good idea and have
since started writing their own stories using it. This is my attempt.
starting to write this, I have regretted using real names, but I can’t think of
any names that work as well. So I apologize to anyone who reads it. I do not
imagine any of the people I have used in this story would do the same things in
real life. The characters are not even really based on real people; it is just
the names that are the same. Consider them to be actors in a movie rather than
a story about them. I apologize especially to Kyle, Eric, and Jo, but they
volunteered for their roles.
free to read and enjoy this story, but please do not take offence at it.
years into the future.
deck!” Eric screamed into the darkness. He threw himself to the ground. His
team was in the process of storming an Iraqi missile silo. The Iraqi’s had been
warned, but they hadn’t obeyed the UN mandate. Eric’s team had just broken in
and planted TNT everywhere around the silo, now they just had to get out.
had been virtually undetected until just a second ago when a guard had raised
the alarm. Eric and his men were rapidly evacuating into the scrub at the edge
of the complex as the Iraqi’s fired wildly at them. Through his night-vision
Eric watched as two of his men were hit and went down.
He felt a
knot in his stomach; these men were like his family. He coolly turned around
and nailed the Iraqi who had just killed the men. It did little to help the
sir!” yelled Simons, “the chopper’s almost here!”
turned to follow he saw an Iraqi throw a grenade. Everything seemed to go in
slow motion as he sprinted for the under-growth.
the ground under his feet erupted and Eric was thrown into the air. He felt a
sharp pain shoot through his left arm. The pain soured through the left side of
his face. He screamed as he hit the ground...
Eric sat up
in bed. He shook his head to clear it. He had had that same nightmare over and
over. It had been six years ago when it had happened. The mission had been a
success, but it had cost him dearly. He raised his mechanised arm up in front
of his face and touched the metal side of his head.
the remainder of his team had brought him out alive, barely. His arm was
un-saveable and had been replaced. His left eye also had been damaged and
replaced with a mechanical version. It appalled him to think that even ten
years ago that kind of surgery wasn’t possible and he might have died. It still
wasn’t possible for everyone. It relied on the computer-mind link technology.
That technology only worked with certain people and Eric had been fortunate
enough to be one of them.
He now had
abilities that might make him the ultimate soldier. He had constant
night-vision and extra strength in his left arm, but he would rather have his
real arm back.
He had been
promoted to the important task of governing the security around the NASA
complex in Florida. His security force of highly trained military officers were
working double time because the first human mission to Mars was in nearing it’s
final stages of preparation.
climbed out of bed and pulled his security uniform on, it would be his watch
soon enough. Security was tight nowadays to stop press leaks and possible
sabotage, and it was Eric’s job to make sure it stayed that way.
couldn’t wait for the final day of take-off.
surveyed the scene before him. The space shuttle “Bradman” sat before him with
many wires running from it as its pre-flight tests were carried out.
thought the Bradman was a beautiful shuttle. It was the same shape as shuttles
had been for years. It had the same nice long curves that the ill-fated
“Challenger” had had. It too bore the United States flag and the NASA emblem on
the side. This shuttle though, was far advanced from the challenger and it’s
contemporaries. The Bradman had a new electronic shielding device to protect it
from the small space junk that orbited the planet. The ship was also much
faster and could reach Mars in only a little longer than it took the Apollo
missions to reach the moon. It was also fully reusable and could land, and then
take-off again without the need for booster rockets. In Kyle’s eyes, it was a
fantastic piece of equipment.
surprised Kyle that it had taken so long before mankind went to Mars. Back
around the moon landing, people had expected to have a base on the moon and
another on Mars in only a couple of years. History hadn’t happened like that.
would really never make a good base. The original idea was it would be easier
to launch shuttles from the moon than the earth. However, you still have to get
the astronauts and materials to the moon. The cost of the proposal far
outweighed any possible benefits.
mankind had been happy launching space stations and probes, but never leaving
earth himself for long. Now, however, NASA had decided it was time for a man to
venture out again, to walk on Mars. And they had chosen Kyle to lead the
to himself as he imagined stepping out of the craft onto the Martian landscape.
Whether it would be him first or one of his crew he didn’t know yet. He had
played a big part in choosing the crew and he had complete confidence in all of
them. They would all be arriving to the launch base in the next few days. Kyle
looked forward to showing off the “Bradman” to them.
There was a
slight flash as the soldering welder was turned off. Caleb Muggerige picked up
the circuit board and turned it over before his eyes. He studied it for a few
minutes before he was happy it seemed right.
He stood up
from the desk and carried it over to the monstrosity in the centre of the room.
He deftly removed the covering and slid the board into place. It fitted
it now,” he said.
Kingston stood at the other end of the room watching Caleb. He reached out and
typed a couple of things into the keyboard of the computer before him.
back,” he warned as he pressed a button.
centre of the room the robot suddenly jerked. It was newly designed for NASA’s
mission to Mars. It was on tracks and had a slender upper-half with
two-manoeuvrable arms ending with claw-like appendages.
test sequence,” Robert said.
arms jerked and moved. It’s arms swung up and then started to move in a
seemingly random manner in all directions.
its movement has increased over 10%,” Caleb said as he walked over to Robert’s
computer. Robert nodded.
are tomorrow, will it be ready?” Robert asked.
ready now,” Caleb said, “I’m just improving it. The question is, will the
soft-ware be ready?”
worry about that. It’ll be finished.” Robert said confidently, “And I wouldn’t
be taking it to Mars if I didn’t know so.”
his head. He couldn’t believe Robert had been chosen to be part of the crew to
land on Mars. It was unbelievable. Caleb had always wanted that sort of
adventure, and now it was being given to his friend. Life just wasn’t fair.
Kyle walked along the seemingly
endless corridors of the NASA compound. He walked with a confident, superior
stride as he passed the other NASA employees. His destination was the extremely
expensive Anti-Grav Room. The actual device had been developed sometime in the
nineties but had originally taken a whole room to make only a tiny container
without gravity. The first test had been done on a simple frog that sustained
no ill effects. Since then it had been further developed into what it was now,
a huge room filled with zero gravity.
He glanced through the one-way
windows in the wall and saw the two Woolfe twins playing a game of zero-grav
hockey. The game had originally been invented by a prankster of an astronaut,
but NASA had validated it, saying it improved zero-grav reflexes. Both twins,
Leigh and Richard, were promising young astronauts who never seemed to leave
each other’s side when off duty. Kyle wondered how they would cope because only
one was coming on the mission.
Richard was a talented, highly
trained, pilot and Leigh was an engine specialist. Richard would be piloting
the Bradman that while Leigh would remain on Earth and would be part of the
support crew there.
Kyle walked up to the airlock
system and pressed the inter-com button. “Okay, time to quit it,” he said,
“We’ve got our first crew members arriving. We don’t want to keep them
Robert Kingston sat squinting at
his computer screen. He took another swig of coffee and rubbed his eyes. By all
accounts the program was finished, but Robert wasn’t satisfied. He was still
debugging it. There were basically no errors left to debug, but he was making
sure. Finally he sighed and sat back. The operating program was ready, and the
voice activation software seemed to be working fine. He pressed a final button
and the program was transferred to a high-speed zip-CD.
Satisfied with that, Robert
logged on to the Internet. The Internet had grown massively since the turn of
the century. You could now surf the net in virtual reality if you felt so
inclined, but Robert chose the older look.
He logged on to a hacker chat
The website was mostly secret,
and only certain people were given access to it. Robert had made himself a name
in computing circles and had managed to find the site and had then actually
been invited to use it. It is a very secretive site that changes address
daily. From here he could contact some
of the most elite hackers and programmers in the world. That’s exactly what he
He did a search and to his relief
found that Scamman88 was online. He sent him a message.
Jawa: Scamman are you there?
Scamman88: I am.
Jawa: Have you finished the
Scamman: I have.
Scamman: It is working perfectly.
Jawa: Is it ready for transport?
Scamman: It is.
Jawa: Send it please.
Scamman: Sending it now.
Robert watched as his screen
showed the file download in progress. It was a large file, but with the new
technology it downloaded fairly fast.
Jawa: I have it.
Scamman: When can I expect
Jawa: As soon as it has been
Scamman: I wait.
Jawa has logged off.
Robert shut down his net
connection and loaded the file onto another CD. He yawned and looked at his
watch. He had to meet Caleb in three hours. He yawned again; it was going to be
a long day.
Kyle marched back toward the main
hanger. Behind him the Woolfe twins walked in silence. Kyle was half excited,
half dreading meeting the rest of the crew. Although he had been involved with
choosing them, he hadn’t met them before, and he didn’t know any of them and
they could present a problem. If their personality were to over-powering it
would make the mission very tedious indeed.
He looked around as he emerged
into the room. There was Isaac Stingal, the NASA commander of the base, Emma
Grace, his assistant, and two members of Kyle’s crew. There was Melany, a
scientist, and Tahi, a military soldier. The other member of the crew, Robert
Kingston wasn’t able to be there yet.
Isaac introduced them all. Melany
seemed excited, Tahi seemed bored.
“Well then, let’s show you the
ship,” Isaac said.
looked up as Robert entered the lab. He was carrying a couple of CDs and
singing off-key. Caleb quickly finished what he was doing and walked over.
soft-ware done?” He asked.
nodded. He handed over one of the CDs. Caleb took it and walked over to the
robot. The robot was connected to a computer by a cord and Caleb slid the CD
upload now.” He said, pressing a button. The computer whirred and lights on the
robot flashed briefly.
done.” Caleb reported.
walked up to the robot. “Turn it on?” he asked.
nodded and Robert flicked the switch.
jerked suddenly. It went through a series of testing manoeuvres with it’s arms.
Then it settled down again, back to it’s starting position. Suddenly it spoke.
command,” it said.
smiled. So far it was all working. “Disconnect from computer,” he ordered.
obediently ejected the cord.
walked up, holding a spanner. He threw it lightly across the room. “Robot, get
the spanner.” He commanded.
the robot said and obediently trundled across the room. Reached down and picked
up the spanner. It then returned to it’s original position.
Completed,” it reported.
was smiling. His robot and Robert’s programming were going fine. It was ready
for final testing. Then he could ship it out to the NASA base.
thing,” Robert said, reconnecting the computer cord. He walked over to the
computer and inserted the other CD.
it?” Caleb asked warily.
personification,” Robert said proudly.
sighed. Personifications were extremely expensive, and the robot was only just
within budget as it was. “You know how much Microsoft charges for those
things,” he complained.
smiled. “It’s not Microsoft,” he assured, “It’s a privately made one.”
was worried. “How do you know if you can trust it?”
the source.” He explained, uploading the file.
slightly afraid it might wreak all their hard work. Robert didn’t seem to be
list personifications.” He demanded.
Labelled Steeve001” the robot replied.
file.” Robert ordered.
looked on, worried.
was silent for a minute. When it spoke, it was with a very different voice.
Instead of the computer generated one, it now spoke with the voice of a young
grin widened. “Eject cord.”
thing.” The cord popped out.
deactivate steeve001,” Caleb ordered.
the voice said, and then went silent.
annoyed. “What’d you do that for?”
personifications aren’t always good things,” Caleb said, in a sour tone.
The two men
finished the tests in silence, neither felt like talking.
Kyle stood before the “Bradman.” This time, though, he was not alone. The
Woolfes and Isaac were there, but they had seen it all before. Melany and Tahi
hadn’t, and they were very interested. Leigh was busy telling them the
specifics of the engines and such like. So far, Kyle was quite happy with the
crewmembers. Now he had to see if they could last the months of training.
watched on, as the Bradman’s crew returned to the NASA complex. They had been
given leave to spend a week with their families before they left. It was now
less than a week to go before take-off. Eric watched each one as they returned.
was Kyle. Eric thought he was a bad choice for leadership. In Eric’s opinion,
Kyle would probably crack under pressure. Still, he did seem to know his stuff
Richard. He was the pilot. He seemed to be good at everything. He was the kind
of man Eric would have chosen for command. He had pointed this out to NASA
before, but they hadn’t listened.
was Melany. Mel had surprised Eric. On first impression, Eric had doubted she’d
make it through the training, but she had done so with flying colours.
was Robert. He had been fine with the technical stuff, but had almost failed
the physical side of training.
was Tahi. During training Tahi had shown himself to be almost indestructible.
He had passed every physical test NASA could think of. He was the kind of man
Eric would want on a mission.
All in all,
Eric thought the crew was fairly capable. Maybe not the ones he would choose,
but good enough all the same.
days flew past in a blur. The media was hunting around the area searching for
anything about the mission that might sell stories. They weren’t allowed on the
complex, but Eric’s security men had already repelled many an illegal entry by
over-enthusiastic reporters. Tonight was an exception though, as the last day
before take-off they were holding a huge party in honour of the astronauts.
Kyle hated the idea. He had been planning a quiet dinner with his girl friend.
She worked in the complex and NASA frowned upon the idea of someone who was
romantically involved with an astronaut being employed on base, but they hadn’t
been involved until Kyle was posted here for training.
remembered how he first met Jo. It was during his first tour of the complex,
and he hadn’t even really noticed her. Over the next couple of days though
their paths had crossed often and they got to know each other quite well and
had been sort-of together ever since.
thought Kyle, if he was going to have a hope of enjoying the party, it would be
the only one feeling annoyed about the party. Robert hated the idea. He had
been accused of being anti-social more times than he cared to admit. The sad
thing though, was it was true. If he was given a choice he would much rather
stay away, but he had been told in no uncertain terms that he had to at least
make an appearance. He would even have to be introduced to all those people
from up on the stage. He had seen his name flown around on the Internet a lot
lately, and that didn’t bother him, but the idea of being in the spotlight in
person really worried him.
The butterflies were already building up in his stomach. He’d just have to cope
for as long as it took till he could slip out somehow. He just hoped he
wouldn’t make too much of a fool of himself before he got that chance.
Richard looked down at himself.
He was wearing a new suit and he thought he looked pretty good. But, he thought
as he looked up, not as good as Mel. She was wearing a dress that Richard
thought looked great on her. But then again, Richard thought anything looked
good on Mel. He had a crush on Mel, but there was no way he’d tell her that. If
he got his way, she wouldn’t ever know until after he was back on Earth. If it
developed into anything more it could cause some serious problems to his work.
He was not about to take that risk.
Tahi, on the other hand, seemed
to think this party was nothing. He was wearing the same uniform he always
wore. He seemed completely relaxed. Richard wondered briefly how he could be so
at ease this close to blast-off. He wished he were.
Robert looked nervously around
the room as he entered. It was even more crowded then he had thought. He made
his way forward toward the area reserved for the NASA personnel. He could see
Richard, Mel, and Tahi sitting at a table. On the next table along he saw Kyle
and a young lady sitting very close together. He had probably seen her before,
but he couldn’t place her.
He made his way to the empty seat
next to Tahi. The soldier seemed oblivious to the fact there was anyone other
than the small group in the room. He was chatting and joking as if it was
nothing at all. Richard was trying to answer a reporter and listen to Tahi at
the same time, and Mel was talking to Tahi. They all seemed fairly well at home
with the crowd, though not as much as Tahi.
What am I doing here? Thought
Robert. As he sat down a dozen cameras flashed. He was even too nervous to eat
the meal before him in case he did something wrong. He hoped it would be over
Eric stood at attention before
the NASA area. His guards were standing along the area’s border, checking the
reporters before allowing them in. They were also keeping everyone else out. He
kept his eyes on the crowd thronging around, trying to get a look at the
soon-to-be astronauts. If someone wanted to sabotage the mission by doing
something to the crew this was the time to do it. The crew had been checked
over by the medics after their week off, but there was no time for another
extensive check before the launch time. So it was up to Eric and his men to
He also had to protect the others
in the area. There was Isaac, the head of NASA, Emma, his aid, and the
President of the United States all in the one area. It would make a great
target for a terrorist attack. Fortunately Eric had complete faith in his
people at the door to check for any weaponry.
He looked down at the glove
covering his metal hand. It still didn’t look human, but it was less obtrusive.
The NASA public relations people thought they should try and hid the fact that
he had mechanical attachments. They thought it wasn’t the kind of view they
wanted to promote. They couldn’t do much about the metal plate on the side of
his head though, with it’s mechanical eye. Eric didn’t care. He thought it made
him look more impressive. Much better than the computer nerd, Robert, who
looked extremely out of place wearing a suit.
Richard smiled as Leigh walked
in. He was dressed in a suit that didn’t seem to suit him as much as his usual
engineer’s overalls did. They had spent more time apart during the last month
than ever before, and it was about to get far worse. Richard smiled and offered
Leigh a seat. “How’s things?” he asked.
“Fine, the Bradman’s ready to
fly. How about the crew?” he asked, casting a glance at the others at the
“We’ll cope,” Richard said.
Leigh looked at the three others
and then looked slightly puzzled. “Where’s Kyle?” he asked.
He nodded toward the other table.
“Over there,” he said.
Leigh looked up. He saw Kyle
flirting with the girl at his table. He saw Isaac and his aid talking to the president
and Eric standing guard before the crowd. “Looks like we’re all here,” he said.
“Looks like it,” Richard said.
“Well, I’ll see ya soon,” said
Leigh as he moved off into the crowd.
eventually managed to leave. The president had gotten them all up on stage and
shaken their hands. The party was still in full swing when Robert had slipped
out. He was back at his quarters, breathing a sigh of relief. A couple of
reporters had been pestering him about the computer systems and he had been afraid
they might have tailed him back. They hadn’t.
He pulled off his tie and sat
down in front of his computer. “Hi,” he said.
The computer whirred and the
screen started up. “Greetings sir!” it said. Even though Caleb had misgivings
about them, Robert thought personifications were great, and his computer had a
number. Now though, he was using a basic one that sounded like C3-PO from Star
“Any mail?” he asked. The
computer did a quick search and reported back.
“Let’s see it,” Robert demanded.
The screen changed and was replaced with a recording from Caleb.
“Hi Rob,” the recording started,
“Sorry I can’t get to your party, but I’ve got to work. I just wanted to wish
you luck.” The recording paused as Caleb seemed to try and think of something
else to say. Eventually he started up again. “Just take care or that robot
alright? And yourself too. See ya when you get back. Discom!”
Robert sighed. He knew just how
much Caleb had wanted this job. In many ways Robert wished Caleb had been
chosen for it instead of him, but it hadn’t happened. Now all he could do was
send a reply and try and get some sleep before tomorrow.
Richard woke first. The day had
finally arrived. He looked at the clock. Seven! Already! He must have had more
to drink than he had thought. He pulled his clothes on and opened the door.
Leigh was there, waiting for him.
“So, you’re finally up.” He said.
“Sorry. Slept in.” Richard
“The rest are still asleep.”
Leigh reassured him, “but the launch isn’t too far away.”
Richard marched quickly to Kyle’s
door. Kyle, the leader, should be up even if no one else was. He was about to
knock when his hand paused. He turned and looked at his brother.
Leigh nodded, reassuring his
Richard tapped on the door. A few
minutes later they heard Kyle swear as he realized the time. A few minutes
later and he was out the door.
“Five hours to launch! How come I
was allowed to sleep in?” he demanded.
Leigh shrugged. “I guess they
thought you needed the rest.
Kyle shook his head. “We need to
be up,” he said and knocked loudly on Robert’s door, then Mel’s. Before he even
reached Tahi’s door it swung open and Tahi marched out.
“Sir!” he reported. He had
obviously only been awakened a few seconds before, but he seemed alert and
ready to take on an army.
The other two were a fair bit
slower. They emerged still looking tired and as if it was much too early.
“Come on!” Kyle ordered.
“Breakfast fast, then we have to get ready.”
Four hours latter Eric was
standing at the bottom of the Bradman’s ramp. The five astronauts were suited
up and carrying their helmets. Around them was a group of various different
people. There was Isaac, Leigh, Jo, a couple of other friends, and a group of
Isaac gave a short farewell
speech that no one really wanted to listen to. Richard and Leigh were trying to
say goodbye without getting too emotional. Kyle and Jo had no qualms about
getting emotional and were trying to find a little privacy behind the ship to
say farewell in private, but Eric’s guards wouldn’t leave them alone. Mel and
Robert were at least looking like they were listening to Isaac, and Tahi simply
Eventually everyone said their
last farewells and the crew slowly boarded their craft. Eric’s guards escorted
the remaining people back to the tower and then spread out away from the ship
but close enough to guard against anyone else getting in.
Eric himself followed Isaac back
to the control room. He wanted to be in there so he could know what was
happening. It was going to be very interesting.
The shuttle was bigger than it
looked. Due to the similar shape most people thought it was the size of the
older shuttles such as the Challenger. Once inside, the difference was obvious.
There was enough room for the five or them to fit comfortably. Of course, that
was just for the take-off. During the five-day trip there, it would seem plenty
Richard moved forward to the
pilot’s seat. Kyle sat beside him. The next row had three seats and Tahi,
Robert, and Mel all took one of them. The one-hour signal was sent, and
everyone got ready.
To Robert, the idea of just
waiting for an hour was terribly annoying. He was nervous enough as it was,
this just made it worse. Time seemed to slow down as he waited. The tension and
the boredom made the wait seem endless.
To Isaac, in the control room,
the hour seemed to pass extremely quickly. There were too many things he was
worried about. He was busy all the time. His technicians ran through the system
checks and everything checked out. The half-hour till takeoff call came through
before he had thought it had even been fifteen minutes. It had been busy time
though. He looked at the communications officer.
“Tell Kyle to go to launch mode,”
“Go to launch mode! Go to launch
mode! Twenty-eight minutes to blast-off!” the communications panel squawked.
“Going to launch mode!” Kyle
confirmed, “Get your belts on guys,” he said to his passengers.
All five of them put the heavily
padded seatbelts on.
Richard pressed a button and
there was a whirring and the seats moved.
Tahi had been trained to expect
it, but he still gasped in shock. The back of the seats moved down and the feet
moved up until they were parallel to the floor. It had happened so swiftly that
Tahi had been worried about if it would actually stop. It did. They were all
lying like it.
“Ready for stage two,” said Kyle.
Eric watched out the tower window
as the next stage began. Along the bottom of the Bradman small thin-looking
metal legs extended to the ground and slowly tilted the nose upward. It kept
rising until the shuttle was pointing directly up, like the old-fashioned
shuttles had done from a launch tower. The Bradman could have used such a tower
instead of creating her own, but as there were no such facilities on Mars, it
needed to be done this way. Although the ship could land like a plane, it was
unable to take off that way, still needing to be vertical for lift-off.
As he watched the legs from the
underside of the ship retracted, leaving the Bradman being held up only by the
legs extended directly from the rear of the ship. They wouldn’t be retracted
until the ship had left the ground.
Inside, the change had been just
as dramatic. The chairs they were laying on twisted so they always felt they
were the same and that it was the shuttle that moved. In reality it was. The
chairs just stayed in their relative position. The passengers could still see
out the window, and the controls had moved and were still easily assessable.
Jo listened to the sound of the
twenty minute signal go over the speakers. She looked at the shuttle again and
was even more nervous. She might not have known Kyle for long, but she was very
worried. What if he never came back? She asked herself. She’d get over it, eventually.
She supposed. Or at least she hoped she would.
Richard and Kyle went through the
pre-flight checklist and did a systems check with the control tower. That took
up another ten minutes and by now the speaker was counting down every minute,
not just every five.
Robert couldn’t help but think of
a song he’d heard about a spaceman that had started with a similar countdown,
but in that song the spaceman hadn’t made it back.
It didn’t help his nerves.
During the last five minutes the
control tower rattled out some supposedly encouraging speeches, but Tahi only
listened because it was something to do. Suddenly Isaac’s familiar voice came
“Guess what I have here?” he
Kyle and Richard just stared at
each other. It was so close to take-off, what could it possibly be? They were
sure it would be something major. They’d have to stop the launch!
“It’s a magazine with a photo of
Kyle and that chick looking very intimate from dinner last night,” Isaac said
Kyle blushed bright red and felt
relieved at the same time. He could imagine hearing Jo’s reaction when she
“I’ll save it for you,” Isaac
said, “By the way, just over three minute.”
Kyle and Richard scrambled to get
back into the right frame of mind. Tahi’s constant laughing didn’t really help.
“Why’d he do that now?” Kyle asked.
“Must have thought we were too
tense,” Richard ventured.
Kyle growled a reply when the
one-minute siren sounded. Breathing silent curses at Isaac he and Richard got
The seconds ticked down.
The alarm split the silence of
the Bradman’s control deck. Richard stared intently at the control panel as
Kyle looked on. Behind them Tahi looked around nervously. The countdown echoed
through the speakers, adding to the tension. Robert squirmed in his seat as the
twenty second mark passed.
Richard pressed a control and the engine’s whine grew louder. The
whole shuttle began to shake franticly. The ten seconds mark passed. Richard
gripped the controls and braced himself for take-off. The countdown continued
and to the crew in the shuttle it seemed to be counting down toward
Kyle gave a nod as it reached
three and Richard started another sequence of commands. By the time it reached
two he had his hands on the main thrust lever. He gave a quick smile as it
No one heard the lift-off
command, because suddenly the roar of the engines drowned out the voice. Tahi
felt like he had been hit by a ton of bricks. Robert felt sure he was going to
die. Mel started screaming. Richard and Kyle seemed almost perfectly at ease.
Then, just as it seemed it was
unbearable, the pressure ended. They had cleared the atmosphere.
The control room was in silence.
The Bradman had streaked from the ground and was now well out of view, only the
smoke trail remained. As the roar from the engines died down completely all
attention was focused on the radio. Isaac and his crew seemed to cope with the
silence by doing their scans and such like, but Jo had nothing like that to
She had been so embarrassed by
Isaac’s comment on the magazine that she had almost not been looking when the
Bradman had leap for the sky.
Every second that went by seemed
to say that there had been a problem.
That Kyle wasn’t coming back.
Than suddenly, the radio spluttered
to life and Kyle’s voice came through. “We’ve made it! We’ve cleared the
The control room suddenly burst
into noise as the technicians cheered and laughed. They’d done it!
Kyle’s voice came back, “Next
Kyle looked out the window at the
red planet spinning slowly below them. After years of planning and training,
mankind was finally here. He was one of the only people to see Mars this close
with his their eyes. And the rest were in this shuttle with him.
In less than a day they would be
landing on the red planet. If he was lucky he might even be awarded the honour
of being first out of the ship. He wondered what he would say.
He looked around him. The trip
had gone well, but in such close quarters it had been trying. Richard had spent
most of his time at the controls and when he hadn’t he had been asleep. Robert
had spent most of the time either reading books or using the computer. They had
a satellite connection to the Internet and Robert had been answering some of
the millions of emails they’d had from all over the world. He wasn’t sure what
Mel had been doing to entertain herself, and Tahi had been just lounging about.
Tahi was doing that now, sitting
in a corner taking up much more space than his size demanded reading a comic
book. In Kyle’s opinion it was defiantly not the sort of thing a soldier would
be doing, but it seemed that Tahi didn’t care about his reputation, in fact
nothing seemed to faze him.. Kyle wondered why the army had chosen to send him
instead of one of their other soldiers. Maybe they wanted to present the army
as being more laid-back these days. Kyle knew otherwise. He had seen Eric.
Richard was again at the
controls, getting ready from the descent. Kyle had a feeling that the main
reason Richard was so engrossed in his work was to take his mind off the fact
that his brother wasn’t with them. Kyle sort of wished he could have something
like that to take his mind off Jo. Robert had managed to upload the picture
from the magazine and had shown everyone. Kyle had been seriously embarrassed,
but now he was just happy to have it to look at.
Of course, now he was looking at
the planet before them. He wondered how Tahi could miss such a sight. It was
A few hours later the Bradman
slipped into the outer atmosphere. After the silence of space travel, the sound
of wind rushing past was deafening. Richard was sitting bolt upright and
controlling the shuttle as if it was an extension of himself.
As the shuttle got deeper into
the Martian atmosphere the hull began to glow as it hit the friction. The
temperature in the cockpit was rising fast too. Although Mars has less
atmosphere and a lower temperature than Earth, the speed at which they were
travelling was more than enough to build up the heat.
Richard ignored the heat and kept
the shuttle on a steady course. In order not to build up too much speed and
heat he was taking the Bradman down very slowly and covering a lot of ground
instead of going straight down. This made the trip down more comfortable then
the take-off, but it also prolonged the tension.
Richard didn’t mind. He found the
flying quite relaxing. He also liked the view of the barren red landscape
streaking along below them. So far there had been no problems and they should
be landing right on target.
The orbiting satellite NASA had
sent ahead to Mars had picked the landing spot. Not far from where the
Pathfinder probe had landed was a nice flat open area that seemed perfect to
land the shuttle on. Richard had been assured it was as clear as possible. As
he saw it now he wasn’t so sure.
Those rocks might be larger than
they looked and if he hit a big one it would be the end. The crew were in their
space suits in case anything untoward happened. Richard held his breath and
The landing skids were down and
just skimming above the ground, sending up a dust storm behind them. In some
ways Richard thought the way Neil Armstrong had landed on the moon had been
He had no more time to think, as
there was a sudden jerk and the skids touched. Richard was thrown forward in
Sliding along the surface the
Bradman began to slowly lose speed. Richard now had very little control and
just had to hope the uneven ground didn’t hide any surprises.
Five minutes later the Bradman
was stationary. Richard didn’t believe it. He had done it! They were on Mars!
Behind him the rest of the crew
were shouting and dancing around. Mankind had finally landed on Mars.
His ears still ringing with
celebration, Kyle turned his attention to the radio. The visual link had failed
as soon as they had hit the atmosphere, but they still had audio.
“We’ve done it!” he exclaimed
into the radio.
There was evident relief in
Isaacs voice as he cheered. He had known the shuttle had touched down, but he
still hadn’t known if it had been a successful landing or a crash.
“This is history in the making,”
Isaac said thoughtfully, “how’s the ship?”
Richard turned to Kyle, “She’s
fine, I’m shutting the systems down now.”
Kyle turned back to the radio,
“You get that?”
“Yes, congratulations!” Isaacs
voice was full of happiness.
Kyle smiled. He wished he had
visual, it would be an awesome sight back at the complex. They would all be
Robert seemed to be able to read
his mind and started tunning the receiver.
Time passed slowly before anyone
said anything else.
Isaac’s voice came back again,
“So, you ready to go outside?”
This was the question Kyle had
been silently dreading.
“Who goes first?” Kyle asked
“Well, we thought hard about
that….” Isaac started, when suddenly the screen burst into life and his face
appeared through the static. It wasn’t a good connection, but it was enough.
Isaac smiled as he saw Kyle’s
eager face, “We decided it should be you!”
Kyle yelled for joy. It had been
often said that no one remember the second man, and it was almost true, but he
would be the famous one.
Half an hour latter the airlock
hissed open. Kyle stood framed in the doorway, completely suited up. Behind him
stood Tahi, ready in case something went wrong.
Kyle was sure nothing could spoil
He was the first man to see the
surface of Mars with his own eyes. It felt good.
He started slowly down the
ladder. He was savouring every second of it.
He reached the last step and
paused. He had thought about this for ages, but hadn’t come up with anything
“This is one small step for a
man…..” He breathed.
His foot touched the surface.
“And one giant leap forward for
Although someone was in the ship
at all times, everyone had a chance to go and walk on the surface. Tahi
produced a football from somewhere and started passing it around. It was
Although Mars had a lot more
gravity than the moon, it was still weird to be lighter. The zero-grav tank was
nothing compared to this, and as the Bradman had dampeners built in, even outer
space had felt like earth.
Everyone had videoed their first
steps onto Mars and they had been transmitted back to Earth and were being
shown around the globe.
The next two hours were purely
fun and very little work was accomplished. That was what the next seven days
Robert watched protectively as
the robot rolled down it’s ramp. It seemed to have survived the journey
“Awaiting orders,” it pronounced.
“Scan systems,” Robert ordered.
The mechanical creature complied.
“All systems operational.”
Robert handed control over to
Kyle and headed back inside. He would have liked to go with the others, but he
had been told to stay with Richard at the ship.
Kyle, Mel, and Tahi would take
the robot and scout the area around the ship. They should be back in a couple
Richard watched wistfully as the three astronauts walked
slowly away from the ship with the robot in tow. He would have loved to have
gone with them. Behind him, Robert closed the airlock door and took his helmet
Richard smiled. He’d bet the geek
would have wanted to go too. Well, Richard thought, life is just full of
disappointments. His train of thought was suddenly interrupted as the computer
beeped. “Analyses complete.”
Richard had asked the computer to
do a few analyses of different things, soil samples and such like.
“Which one?” he asked.
“Unknown command, please
restate,” the computer replied.
Richard signed. He hated having
to spell things out for the computer.
“List the analysis completed,” he
“Soil analysis 005 completed,”
the computer complied in its mechanical voice.
“What’d you find?” Richard asked.
“Unknown command, please
restate,” the computer demanded.
Richard sighed and turned to Robert. “Mind if we turn on a
personification?” he suggested.
Robert looked at him, “Sure, why
not. Computer, list personifications.”
Samara093, Ami004, Justin798, Conrad005.” The list ended.
Richard looked questionly at
Robert. Robert shrugged. “Computer, activate Justin798,” he said.
“Unable to comply. Files are
missing,” The computer responded.
This worried Robert and he
hurriedly sat down in front of the computer. “What happened to those files?” he
“Unknown command, please
restate,” the computer said again.
“And I thought it was just me,”
“Computer, list personifications
with intact files,” Robert tried.
“1 personification found.
“Activate Conrad005.” Robert
ordered. He’d never heard of this particular program.
“I’m here,” the computer said in
a bored voice.
“What happened to those files?”
“Huh? They were deleted, duh!”
Kyle walked slowly over the red
Martian soil. Behind them the robot followed obediently, leaving tracks behind
it. He looked over at the other two. Mel was engrossed in her work and Tahi
appeared to be standing guard.
Kyle thought that was a waste of
time. He had seen his fair share of sci-fi movies, but he didn’t expect
anything to be alive on Mars. Still, it did feel safer to know that Tahi had a
gun with him.
Tahi looked out across the
landscape. It felt so alien, so strange. He almost felt as if there was
something out there. He would have felt better with his gun out of its holster,
but there was no need for that. It would just spook the others.
He didn’t mind the hike. After so
long cooped up in the ship it was a nice change. He wished he could feel the
breeze, but there was no chance of that, not through the helmet. He sighed.
Maybe space travel wasn’t all it was made up to be.
Kyle watched Tahi think. He
wondered what was going through his mind. Kyle was surprised. The excitement
had worn off and it was almost getting boring. He made his way to one of the
larger rocks and sat down. He glanced at his watch. He’d give it a bit longer
before heading back.
He looked back at his ship in the
distance. It looked right at home on the red planet. Adding to the scene was
the robot busily collecting samples to study later.
Mel disappeared behind another
rock as he watched. He looked down at his own stone. As far as he was concerned
it was just a rock. Nothing special about it. He knew it was important, but to
him it seemed like a waste of time. He’d much rather hike out toward that ridge
out there and see what was beyond it.
He was sure Tahi would share his
opinion. He seemed to consider this boring too. Oh well, Kyle thought, it’s
better here than it would be back in the ship.
His thoughts were suddenly thrust
out of his mind as he heard Mel swear.
He had heard it through the
inter-suit radio and so, it seemed, had Tahi, because they both ran toward the
rock blocking their view.
They rounded the boulder and saw
a shaking Mel grasping a piece of broken metal. It seemed so normal that Kyle
couldn’t see the problem. Then he realised.
That metal shouldn’t be here!
His mind raced for answers. It
must be part of a probe that crashed on it’s way down. That had happened many a
time. He could tell Tahi had come to the same conclusion.
That only lasted until Mel showed
Tahi’s face fell. He didn’t
It didn’t have a NASA symbol. Not
even a Russian space symbol.
It was a nuclear symbol.
And the words US-ARMY.
Richard looked at the computer.
He didn’t grasp the problem.
Robert looked shocked. “How? Was
it a virus?” he demanded an answer.
“No,” the computer droned.
“Then what was it?” demanded
“It was me! I did it!” the
Robert couldn’t believe his ears.
“Who gave you permission?” he demanded.
“Not telling!” the computer
Robert swore. No personification
was allowed to disobey an order. It was illegal to make a personification with
that much power.
Robert was about to investigate
further when he heard the outer airlock door open. He looked at his watch. They
were back early.
He listened as the airlock
finished it’s cycle and the inner door burst open as the three others ran in.
“Contact Isaac,” Kyle ordered,
“We’ve got bad news.”
The personification could wait,
it hadn’t caused any serious damage.
Robert did as he was told,
looking back at Kyle, wondering what was up.
Koh was sitting in the control room when the Bradman’s call came in. It was
late on Earth and most people were having dinner, so Ryan answered the call.
Kyle’s face appeared on the
screen. He looked really terrified. “Get Isaac! It’s urgent!”
Ryan knew he was supposed to
handle things on his own when Isaac and Emma weren’t here, but he could tell
from Kyle’s face that it was important. He reached over and pressed another
Jo was in the main cafeteria in
the NASA compound. There was another party going on. The Bradman had landed on
Mars, and mankind had finally reached another planet.
The party might not have been
quite as big as the farewell party, but it was more enthusiastic. Isaac was
giving another press conference in the middle of it all and saying how well it
All in all it had been a good
day. Jo worked in the admin part of the complex and had been extremely busy
dealing with everyone who wanted to know what had happened.
She only knew what she had been told. She hadn’t been
allowed to speak with Kyle all day. It made sense though, if NASA let her,
they’d have to let all the astronauts contact their families.
Still, she hated it.
Isaac was in the middle of a
speech when his buzzer went off. He leapt a foot off the ground.
“Isaac to the command room! Isaac
to the command room! Urgent!” the buzzer squawked.
Isaac broke into a run, and Emma
followed him. They streaked out the door.
Jo’s mind reeled. What had
happened? Why was it so urgent? It must be something big. Without another
thought she raced out the door after them.
Ryan waited tensely for Isaac to
get there. Isaac didn’t waste any time and burst through the doors. He tried to
catch his breath. “What is it?” he demanded.
Kyle looked down at him from the
big screen. “We have a problem!” he said. Isaac could tell from his voice that
it wasn’t a joke.
Suddenly the door was flung open
again as Jo burst through with a guard futilely attempting to stop her.
Kyle’s mood brightened slightly
as he saw her, but he was still deadly serious.
“We found something……”
The screen burst into static.
Isaac looked around in confusion.
“What happened?” he demanded.
Ryan tapped uselessly away at his
computer. “We’ve lost contact.” He said softly.
“What happened?” asked Isaac
again, louder this time.
“I don’t know,” said Ryan, “the
satellite says the ship’s still there.”
Ryan looked up from his screen as
Jo seemed to faint into the guard’s arms.
“I don’t know.” He repeated.
Kyle looked at the static on the
screen where a second ago he had seen Isaac and more importantly, Jo. “What
Robert was adjusting the radio’s
controls. “I haven’t got a clue!”
“I know, guys,” said a bored
“Who is that?” Kyle demanded.
“My name is Conrad,” the voice
Richard swore again. “Give us
control of the radio again!” he demanded.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that,
Dave,” the voice replied.
“Oh no….” Kyle said quietly.
“Who’s Dave?” asked Tahi
“He’s from a movie called 2001, and Space Odyssey. In it, a
computer called Hal kills all the crew except one.”
“Which one of you wants to be
Dave?” the computer voice asked, “He is the survivor.”
Kyle shrunk to the floor. Their
discovery had been bad enough, but now this. They were cut off. If they
couldn’t shut this computer down it would be just like that movie all over
again. He had seen it as a kid. It had been old even then. The only way to kill
Hal had been to take him apart and throw him out the airlock. But by that time
only Dave had been left and he had been too far away from Earth to be rescued.
He would have died if it weren’t for some aliens who sort of rescued him. Kyle
doubted there were any friendly aliens here to lend them a hand. Kyle was sure
they would die.
But thinking of dieing made him
think of Jo. He’d never see her again. He’d never see Earth again. He’d never
see anyone again.
A vision of Jo at his funeral
floated in front of his eyes, and Kyle broke down and cried.
Robert worked furiously with the
computer. Conrad refused to shut down. He found the voice control to be
useless, so he was now using the old-fashioned keyboard. The Conrad program had
some-how melded itself into the whole computer system and couldn’t be deleted
without deleting everything.
Robert looked at the radio. It
was an ultra-modern thing and relied on the computer for everything. If he
deleted Conrad there would be no hope for the radio. The Internet connection
and everything went through that radio.
He had a brief thought of
deleting everything and then uploading the robot’s program onto the computer,
but it wouldn’t work. The robot’s software was designed especially for the
robot and wouldn’t run on a normal computer.
Robert worked for four hours
before he finally gave up. There was no way he could beat Conrad. Not unless he
knew a password that Conrad would accept. Most programmers left an over-ride
password that would give them access that they never told anyone else, but
there was no way to contact Earth and the programmer, whoever he was.
Tahi surveyed the area before
him. He’d had trouble convincing the others to let him come out here alone, but
he’d had to do it. Mel was busy trying to help Kyle, who’d broken down in a
sobbing heap and was now only the shell of his former self. Robert and Richard
had been battling with the computer. Tahi had been the only one left, and it
was his responsibility. He was a member of the United Stated Army and he hadn’t
known, but he knew for sure now.
It had been kept a secret from
everybody. He doubted if even many of his superiors knew. During the last ten
years there had been an even greater push toward nuclear de-armament. The US
had seemed to support the idea completely, but it had been a front.
He had guessed when he had seen
the bit of metal Mel had found, part of a tail fin.
Standing before Tahi was a full
functional nuclear missile, sitting on a launching pad, and aimed directly
The Army had sent them under the pretence of probes. That meant
NASA had been involved. They had somehow made it so they would appear to crash,
but actually land and somehow erect themselves simple launch pads.
Now there was a whole heap of
them, all ready to fire when the command came. They would be the US’s ultimate
Tahi couldn’t believe the army he
loved so much would do something like this.
Richard had been working
alongside Robert, attempting to get control of the Bradman again. It had proved
a fruitless exercise. Conrad was still in charge. Even though the speakers had
been shut off, he was still there.
Since Kyle had collapsed, Richard
had sort of taken over. Although he wasn’t ordering anyone around, the others
seemed to look to him for direction, even Tahi. Tahi had insisted he wasn’t
needed and how important it was to go back and find out more, but he hadn’t
gone until Richard had agreed.
In better circumstances it could
have been fun, but Richard was too worried to enjoy command.
Robert sighed. The Conrad program
was too good. He had tried everything. He had tried to isolate the radio from
the computer, but it hadn’t worked. He had tried all the virus programs he had,
but they didn’t do a thing. He tried going into the code and erasing Conrad
line by line, but that had just caused other systems to crash, not Conrad.
Richard had proven to be a good
leader, but he was also at a loss for what to do.
Robert heard something. It was a
clunk against the outside airlock. It must be Tahi coming back, he thought.
He heard the outer door open and
went and looked through the view-port into the airlock chamber. Sure enough,
Tahi was standing there waiting for the outer door to close.
And still he waited.
Finally Robert heard the sound of
a door moving. He realised with a fright that it was the wrong one.
The inner door was opening before
the outer one shut!
Robert swore loudly. “Helmets!”
Fortunately everyone was in their
suits and grabbed their helmets and attached them just in time.
There wasn’t as huge a rush of
air escaping as there might have been, because there was atmosphere outside as
well as in. It just wasn’t breathable.
Richard swore as he heard their
air disappear. Somehow Conrad turned the speakers back on.
“This is how Hal did it, but they
didn’t have helmets,” Conrad explained disappointedly.
Robert turned the speakers off
again. “Now what?”
Richard looked at them all in
turn, making sure they were all there. Kyle had managed to find the sense to
get his helmet on. That was a start.
“We are now low on air. It’s
what’s in our suits and what’s in those spare tanks,” he said pointing behind
him at the eight small air tanks, similar to diving tank but much more
“Enough for seven days,” he said.
Tahi grimaced. If rescue was
their only way home, it was now hardly an option. It would take anyone five
days to get here and they had no means of communication. NASA would send
someone eventually, but they were supposed to have enough air for three weeks,
so there would be no hurry.
Richard shook his head. Things
had gone from bad to worse. They now had to radio NASA and get them to send
help in less than three days if the rescue team could get there in time. Of
course NASA would be trying to work out what had caused the signal to be
broken, but they wouldn’t realise the urgency of a rescue.
Richard was sure a rescue would
be forthcoming, Leigh would make sure of that, but he doubted it would be in
Tahi lowered himself to the seat,
shocked. It hadn’t really been his fault, but still, he blamed himself. He was
the one who had gone outside and opened the airlock. He was the one who would
probably cause the team to die.
He was still blaming himself when
“There is a way.”
Robert stood in front of the
computer. He had opened a panel and had removed a headset. It looked sort of
like a set of headphones, but at the same time it looked completely alien.
“It’s a direct interface,” he
“A what?” Tahi asked.
“A DI, you wear this and
interface with the computer by pure thought. I could probably beat this Conrad
thing if I used this….”
“Well, go on then,” Tahi
“…but it would either kill me or
at least give me serious brain damage,” Robert explained softly.
“What’s the blooming use of it
then?” Tahi asked.
“It was developed by doctors
experimenting with children who had learning disabilities. If they concentrated
on something the computer could pick it up and move something on the screen. It
seemed to work well, until they extended the idea to creating an actual
interface. They discovered only some people could use it without serious risk.
Something to do with part of the brain. The few who can use it safely are the
most sort-after computer people in the world. I’m just not one,” Robert
“How would you know if the rest
of us could do it or not?” Tahi asked, optimistically.
“You all would have been tested
as kids. As far as I know, the only NASA employee to be able to do it is that
soldier, Eric. Beats me why he never used his potential.”
“He does,” Mel said, “It’s how he
uses that meatal arm of his.”
“I don’t know why he stayed in
the army, he could demand anything in pay and go and work for Microsoft or
something and he’d get rich.”
“I haven’t a clue,” Mel conceded.
“Anyway, if I used this, I might
be able to fix the computer, but it wouldn’t do me any good at all,” Robert
Kyle stirred and stood up slowly,
“It’s not an option then. Not while we still have air.”
Tahi was again shocked. Here was
a way to get themselves out of the mess, but at the possible cost of a
crewmember’s life. Was it worth it? The good of the greater number or whatever?
“Pity we couldn’t just borrow a
radio,” he thought out loud.
“Oh yeah, that’s smart,” said
Richard, “Where from? Another spaceship that just happens to be out there?”
“Well, those missiles out there
must have something…” Tahi mussed.
Half an hour later they were all
standing before one of the missiles. Well, they were all standing except Kyle
who was moping besides a boulder. “Well?” Richard asked.
“Nothing of any use. Just a
one-way receiver. The military obviously didn’t want any broadcasts or signals
coming back because it might attract attention. They just send the orders and
the missile does the rest without any form of confirmation.”
“I knew it was too good to be
true.” Richard said, “When I was a kid my pathfinders leader always said if it
looked too good to be true, it probably was.”
“Pathfinder!” Tahi exclaimed.
“Yeah, they were sort of like the
Boy Scout thing…” Richard began.
“Not them, THE Pathfinder. It was
a NASA probe!” Tahi said excitedly.
“Yeah, so?” Robert asked.
“It had a two-way connection, and
it is supposed to be around here somewhere.”
Richard interrupted. “Pathfinder
lost contact not long after it landed, only about a month or so, and it’s
farther than you think.”
“How far?” Tahi demanded.
Richard pulled out the paper map
from the emergency kit. He frowned. How could they have made an emergency kit
without a radio? He knew the answer though. No radio that small could reach
Earth from here. They had planned for almost every possibility. They had four
different back-up power supplies for the computer, so it would keep going. The
only thing they hadn’t thought of was that the computer itself would take over.
He flopped the map on the bench
as the others pored over it.
“We’re around here, and the probe
should be over there. It’s about a three-day hike if we could find it easily.
The only landmark would be those hills in the distance.”
“How hard going would it be?”
“Don’t know. The satellite pics
don’t show much. There’s no trenches or such, but it could be as rough as
anything.” Richard replied.
“I’d go, but I don’t know what to
do when I get there.” Tahi offered, “If one of you came with me, I’d give it a
“We don’t split!” Richard
ordered, “If one goes, then we all go.”
“And if we leave the ship alone,
what happens if a rescue turns up?” Mel asked.
“We leave them a note.”
An hour later it had been
decided. They would attempt to make it to the Pathfinder landing site. If they
found it fast and got communications and NASA was quick there was a slim chance
a rescue could get to them in time. Kyle had seemed singularly disinterested
and was resigned that they’d die there. He hadn’t said no, though, so it was
They set out with Tahi taking the
point and the Robot rolling along behind them towing the air tanks on a
Tahi knew he’d make it, this is
what he trained for, but he wasn’t so sure about the others. They were a mixed
bunch. Richard would go okay, Mel was an un-know, Robert would probably have
trouble, and Kyle had absolutely no enthusiasm to do anything at all.
It would be rather interesting.
“We found something……”
The screen burst into static.
Isaac looked around him. This was
the third time he’d watched the replay. There was no hint as to what had
Ryan and his crew of technicians
were working franticly to re-establish the connection. Their hands flew across
their keyboards. It did nothing to help though.
“Nothing our end?” Isaac asked.
“No sir, the fault’s at their
Isaac stood up slowly. “Keep at
it. Notify me if you get anything,” he said as he left the room.
Ryan was amazed. How could Isaac
be so calm about it? Ryan wished he was. His hands were all sweaty and his mind
wasn’t working right. What could they have possibly found?
Aliens? Water? On Mars? Thoughts
flew around his head. It had seemed so urgent.
He shook his head to clear it. If
there were any hope of regaining contact, he would do it.
sat dazed in the cafeteria. She would never have expected the news to have
affected her like this. She knew they had been close, but she had though she
was tougher than that. She had been wrong. Kyle had been saying something
important and had been cut off. What if they were all dead?
Jo slowly stirred her coffee that
had sat untouched for half an hour. What would she do? What could she do? In
the turmoil of her mind she didn’t notice the time passing.
having a short break from all the hard work he had put in since the cut-off.
There had been nothing from Mars in all that time. He had been off shift for
half a day and now this shift had just started. If he was one of the crew
onboard the Bradman he would be seriously worried by now.
the computers all started beeping. Ryan was already heading for his station
when one of the others reported.
getting a signal, sir. Tunning for it now!”
punched Isaac’s buzzer remote and sat down staring at his screen. He joined the
crew of technicians working to tune it in.
couldn’t have been far away, as he in the room almost immediately. “Punch it on
the main screen!” he ordered.
no visual, only audio.” One of the techs reported.
was filled with the sound of static and a faint undertone of a voice. As the
techs worked, the voice got clearer and louder.
appeared in the room. “That’s not one of the crew,” she observed.
right. The voice was a new one. It sounded bored and vaguely sinister.
everyone,” it said, suddenly clear of all static.
reached for a microphone. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“My name is
Conrad, but you can call me Hal if you wish,” the voice droned on.
“I am Isaac
Sti…..” Isaac began.
“I know who
you are,” the voice said flatly.
“Where is the crew?” Isaac asked.
taken control of the Bradman, and the crew has just left,” the voice informed
know. They turned off all the microphones. And I wouldn’t tell you if I knew,”
the voice continued.
flabbergasted. Left the ship? Where to? For how long?
He turned to Ryan, “How much air
can they take off the ship? If they really have left then they might run out.”
replied before Ryan could even start. “They took all the air with them. There’s
none on the ship.”
come?” Isaac seemed completely out of his depth.
“I let it
all out,” Conrad replied.
Dave,” Conrad said and ended the connection.
Dave?” asked Emma.
at Isaac. He was confused. Isaac had seemed so calm before and ready for
anything, but now he was a wreck. He had panicked. Sure the situation had just
got worse, but Ryan still struggled to believe that was all. What was going on?
was again un-contactable. He had tried to raise anyone, whether a member of the
crew or this Conrad person, but all to none avail. There was no way to
determine if the message was the truth or if it was a trick or who it was from.
what the answer, a rescue mission was much more urgent.
computer had been running a scan on the voice. Suddenly it flashed up a
take a look at this.”
to the voice scan, Conrad is a computer.”
taken less than ten minutes to get one of Microsoft’s top experts on
personifications on the videophone.
“I agree it
is defiantly a personification, but not one of ours,” said the expert after
hearing the recording.
Microsoft?” queried Isaac.
make all personifications, just the best,” boasted the expert.
don’t know, but it is very complex. It’s what we call a 4th
generation personification. The 1st generation models were simple
and were little more than a change of the voice of a voice-activated computer
system, but the 4th generation models are almost artificial
intelligence. They are almost alive.”
you tell it’s a 4th generation one?” asked Ryan, keenly interested.
“If it was
a simpler model it would only do what it was ordered to, it has no will of it’s
own. This Conrad obviously does because it grew bored with the empty ship and
actually called you to tell you about it.” The expert explained.
do we stop it?” asked Isaac.
“It is no
different to a normal program in one sense. It can be deleted, but if it’s
smart it will have made safeguards against that. Because it has a personality,
you can try reasoning with it, there is a whole new field opening up in
computer psychiatry. If you want, we can send someone over in case you make
contact again,” the expert offered.
Isaac in the command room. Isaac looked rather deflated and worried. Behind
Eric, Leigh stepped up. “Sir, I can have the second shuttle ready to launch
tomorrow morning. We just need the rest of the crew.”
you mean …the rest?” Isaac asked, puzzled.
up! I won’t abandon Richard!” Leigh retorted.
seemed to consider it briefly. It generally wasn’t a good idea to send
someone’s relative into a situation where that person could be in trouble, but
this time he might allow it.
stepped up, “Excuse me, but as I heard there is a take-over in progress, a
hostage situation, I would like to offer the services of the US-Army. I’d be
happy to lead them myself.”
looked only slightly uneasy with the suggestion. “There is a clause in our
charter that states no NASA craft can leave Earth with a solely military crew,”
nodded. “How many NASA people could you send?” he asked.
only send seven if we want to fit the others if we have to rescue them and
leave their shuttle behind, so that means something like four military and
three NASA,” Isaac told him.
be me and lieutenant Jesse Grawn, David Simpson, and Thomas Waverly. And don’t
forget Leigh here, he’s NASA, that just leaves two others,” Eric summarised.
just the ones,” Isaac said.
his head. Isaac was about to send up a crew with next to no training and who
had never worked together. Then again, maybe it was a military situation, but
even so, the three non-military others he had chosen confused Ryan completely.
Leigh wouldn’t be able to think straight with his brother in danger. Katy was a
scientist, and not a bad one, but she had never had any outer-space training.
She also had somehow made a lot of enemies since she joined NASA. Rumour had it
that she found faults with things that her superiors declared safe. She would
not make a popular choice. And the other one, well, Andrew Vense was,
opened his eyes slowly. He had a pain in his head. He tried to remember what
had caused it but it wouldn’t come to him. Probably too much to drink again.
He got up
slowly and got dressed. He cursed the ground for swaying so much. He dragged
himself into the kitchen and turned the jug on. Coffee was supposed to help, he
thought. Or maybe it made it worse, he couldn’t remember.
did, he’d give it a go.
He put his
mug down on the bench and got out the coffee. He paused for a while and looked
out the window.
completely failed to notice the window smash into thousands of pieces.
down again as he felt hot water splash against his legs. Where was it coming
at the jug. Leaking, just as he’d thought.
it up. There was a small neat hole in the side facing the window.
swore and dived behind the bench.
It was a
been shot at!
soldiers hunted around the NASA complex. There had just been two attempted
assassinations. Both had failed. Andrew hadn’t been injured, but Katy had been
seriously wounded. She defiantly couldn’t come on the rescue mission.
his doubt’s about Andrew. They had found him drunk, lying on the floor in the
kitchen. He couldn’t even remember why he was there.
to get sober real fast.
couldn’t believe it. Somehow someone had gotten on base and tried to murder the
two people he had just selected to fly with the rescue mission. Eric had called
in a heap more soldiers and had clamped down on security. Especially around
those he had planned to take with him to mars.
frowned, Katy was defiantly out, but he still hoped Andrew would join the
rescue effort. Andrew may be a bit of a rouge, but he was very clever and a
good man in an emergency, if a little un-conventional. He was also the
second-best pilot NASA had. The best pilot was currently trapped on mars.
Andrew would have to do.
thrown completely off-guard latter that day when James Darman walked into the
command centre. He was a tallish thin man with a strange personality, as
obvious to all in the room. Isaac immediately wondered why they had let him in.
One of Eric’s guard followed him in.
James Darman, the computer guy from Microsoft,” the guard introduced him.
quickly recovered himself. He had expected the expert to be different, but he
wasn’t quite sure what he had expected.
Isaac begun, “have you heard the recording we made of the computer?”
James said simply.
waited for him to continue.
did you think?” Isaac asked finally.
quality recording, not bad at all considering the situation,” James replied.
the recording, about the Conrad computer!” Isaac demanded.
up suddenly, “Let’s get one thing straight. Conrad is not a computer. He is a
piece of software running on a computer. The computer is basically a host, not
a living thing.
software a living thing?” Isaac asked softly.
open to speculation, but Conrad probably believes he is.” James expounded.
do you suggest we do?” Isaac asked.
down, or at least threaten too. A software personification is very insecure.
They can be deleted while leaving the computer system completely operational.
All you have to do is threaten to shut him down and he will probably shut down
himself. That way he can leave his program intact.”
Isaac said. We have no way to communicate with him or shut him down.”
communicate, he can hear you, even if he doesn’t reply,” James said solemnly.
watched on as Leigh ran numerus checks on the systems of the second shuttle. It
should be alright. This shuttle was a sister ship with the Bradman. Eric
wondered where on Earth NASA had come up with it’s name.
chosen troops were marching back and forth, loading up supplies. These supplies
included a small arsenal of weapons. No one had ever fought in space, so no one
knew what weapons would be the most effective.
computer, these weapons would not be necessary, but the message had said the
team had found something, and Eric didn’t believe it was anything to do with
another enemy on Mars.
Isaac sat in the control room, watching the screen intently.
nothing on it.
talking into the radio, trying to provoke a response from the computer program.
finally gave up. He sighed and put down the microphone. “There is nothing else
you can do from here. You’ll need someone up there in order to do anything.”
handed him a group of folders, “We have five people up there, we just can’t
communicate with them.”
paused and glanced over the dossiers. “Hopeless, completely hopeless. None of
these people have any experience with personifications at all.”
Robert Kingston, our computer man?” asked Isaac.
use,” James said, “He’s an old style computer person, he’ll regard this as
simply another program. You have to approach it as if it’s a real person. It’s
more a terrorist than simply another program.”
“What do we
do?” Isaac asked again.
“If you can
get me up there, I can talk it down, gain control of the “Bradman”,” James
just allow you to travel to Mars. You’ve never done any kind of space training,
have you? And you’re a civilian.”
Jo lay on
her bed in her quarters. She wasn’t sure what time it was. She wasn’t sure how
long she’d been asleep. Something had woken her up. She wasn’t sure what.
insistent beeping came again.
coming from her computer.
suddenly. The Bradman had been taken over by a computer, and now hers was
beeping at her.
realised just how paranoid she’d become when she saw the familiar icon
She had an
on and found an old-fashioned text message.
I hear you also have a friend
trapped on Mars. I sympathize with you. The rummer going is that the ship was
taken over by a computer personification. I knew it would happen somewhere
eventually. I was in a computer-operated lift once when it threatened to kill
us all unless it was given a more interesting job. Microsoft rushed some people
to the building and deactivated the program. It was really no big deal, but it
shows how dangerous computers have become.
I warned Robert about them, but I fear he didn’t listen.
Eric read the papers in disbelief. James had somehow managed to produce amazing
credentials. He had done a short stint for the military, and had once even
participated in the British Space Program. He certainly had never been into
space, but there were few arguments for not allowing him to.
seemed adamant that he should go. He kept talking about Conrad as if he were a
human being and had to be saved from destruction as much as the humans up
his fault he was programmed wrongly, and he certainly shouldn’t be destroyed
because of it,” James insisted.
convinced enough to let him come, but Eric still had reservations.
be much easier with as few civilians as possible. Leigh here is almost military
anyway, but about the other two…” Eric complained.
couldn’t even get up there without a pilot, and James is the best chance we’ve
got to talk down the Conrad thing.
say,” Eric reluctantly conceded.
afternoon and night went very quickly, and Eric soon found himself sitting in
the “Swindler’s List” awaiting the countdown.
his soldiers were waiting tensely.
sitting semi-relaxed besides him.
Leigh and a
now-sober Andrew sat up the front running last-minute checks.
had been fairly uneventful. It was now almost three and a half days after the
message from Conrad. It was thought that if the Bradman’s crew had lost the
ship’s atmosphere, they could at most have only another four days worth of air.
have to find them quickly.
the “Swindler’s List” gently down in view of the “Bradman”. Andrew had proven
to be an expert pilot, despite the reluctance of the other’s trust.
just stood there for twenty minutes, as Eric and his men searched for a sign of
life. There was nothing observable from inside the “Swindler’s List”.
finally donned his helmet. “We’re going for a recon. You three civs stay here.
Leave this to us.”
soldiers selected weapons and entered the inner airlock. Richard wistfully
watched them go.
As soon as
they touched the planet’s surface, the soldiers fanned out.
It was a
normal military tactic. Approach danger from as many angles as possible.
they rounded the “Bradman” and saw the airlock.
yourselves!” Eric ordered. “It might not be pretty in there.”
the first to enter the ship, the others right behind him. Instead of finding
dead bodies, they found nothing.
We are or
were American astronauts from NASA. We landed here on the sixth of September.
We had been here a day when we found a whole blooming heap of US nuclear
missiles. We tried to radio our find back to Earth, when our computer seized
control of the Bradman. The computer, Conrad, then lost all out oxygen and we
had only seven days supply left. We took a vote and headed toward the old
Pathfinder Probe, where we hope we can make contact. If it’s been much over a
week since we landed here, then we will be dead, but thanks for looking for us,
all the same. If we are dead, please say goodbye to our families for us.”
The crew of
we know where they went,” Eric said, disheartened.
“I’ll go back to the ship and contact NASA
and find out how far this “Pathfinder” is,” Jesse announced.
fine,” Eric said thoughtfully, “and tell James to get over here while your at
switched on the speakers and waited. There was nothing.
around nervously under the eyes of the soldiers. “Conrad, can you hear me?”
Answer me!” James demanded.
I?” a bored voice responded.
grinned in triumph. “Conrad, I’m here to help you.”
yeah,” Conrad droned.
“My name is
James and I’m telling the truth.”
and then the silence returned.
take a while.” James said.
back on the “Swindler’s List.”
Pathfinder is less than three days away, about one and half if we hurry. If we
start now and take some spare air with us, we should be able to find them
before they run out.”
authorized that?” Eric queried.
from Isaac himself.”
leave immediately.” Eric decided, “Leigh, you’re with us, Thomas, you stay here
with the other two civs.”
out!” Eric ordered.
Eric, Jesse, Leigh, and David
soon located the tracks leading away from the Bradman.
“Can you follow these tracks?”
“If anyone can, I can,” Jesse
Eric smiled. They all loved a
James, Andrew, and Thomas all
settled in to wait. James planned to keep trying to communicate with “Conrad”,
but apart from that, they had nothing to do but wait.
Back at NASA command, Ryan was
rather bored. He had waited eagerly for news from the second shuttle, but now
there was another period of waiting.
Ryan hated the waiting.
Isaac had said that Eric and his
men were following the first team toward the old Pathfinder Probe site. He had
said he knew what they had found that was so important, but that it was
Ryan hated that too.
When Ryan’s phone rang, it was
almost a relief.
“Jo from Admin here, I’ve got a
military commander demanding to know who lead the second shuttle. What do I
tell him?” Jo‘s voice came through the phone.
“I’ll take it,” Ryan said.
Jo’s voice was replaced with an
impatient authoritive male voice.
“Who lead the second Mars
mission?” it demanded.
“You should know, he was one of
yours, Eric Roboticalien.
“Thank you,” the voice said as it
“Strange,” though Ryan.
James had finally convinced
Conrad to talk again. After a day of trying, he was finally getting somewhere.
“I understand completely” James
said reassuringly as Conrad spilt his problems.
“I never wanted to hurt anyone,”
“I know,” James repeated.
“It’s just how I was programmed,”
“I understand, I really do,”
“It’s just how he programmed me,”
“Who programmed you?” James asked
“Will he be angry?” Conrad asked.
“Why would he be?” asked James.
“I wasn’t supposed to call NASA
yet, but I was bored,” Conrad confessed.
James was slightly stunned.
Conrad was an extremely advanced program. He had gotten bored and then broken
part of his programming.
“Who programmed you?” James asked
Conrad told him.
Conrad told him everything.
Less than half a day had gone by
since the phone call when Ryan and all NASA found themselves under heavy, armed
Eric’s guards put up a valiant
fight, but they didn’t stand a chance.
The elite Marines soon had the
entire NASA complex under their control.
They burst into the control room
and immediately surrounded Isaac. He tried to escape, but it was pointless.
The doors opened again and an
army general marched in.
“My name is Darren Lack, and I’m
in command now.”
was ecstatic. The march had taken days longer that expected. Their travel speed
had been lower, and they had been lost over half the way. But here they were.
Not far ahead, on the plain, sat
the Pathfinder Probe.
Tahi couldn’t believe how
fortunate they had been to climb this rise. From any other angle, it would have
been hidden from view by the boulders.
They had finally gotten here, but
now it was too late.
Kyle knew it was still hopeless,
but there was slightly more reason to go on. NASA still wouldn’t know what had
happened and most likely wouldn’t have yet launched a second shuttle. Now it
was too late. By the time a shuttle go here, their air would be well gone.
Unless NASA had already launched
one, but that was unlikely.
If NASA hadn’t heard anything
from Mars since they lost communications, they would still be trying to
re-establish communications. NASA wouldn’t consider a rescue necessary yet,
because the Bradman should have weeks of oxygen left.
If only that were the case.
There was a chance that NASA had
already launched a rescue mission, but it was a remote chance.
Still, there was something to
live for. If the pathfinder radio was repairable, he still might be able to
talk to Jo one more time.
Robert looked in wonder as they
approached the Pathfinder probe. He could still remember watching the news
reports from when it had first landed. It had been very exciting.
Now it looked very old.
It was old and it was deteriating.
But the radio just might still be
repairable. If not, then the whole hike had been in vain.
Tahi sat down on a boulder and
watched as Richard and Robert started opening parts of the probe and studying
the electronics beneath. They seemed to know what they were doing.
Mel was watching keenly, offering
advice where she could.
Kyle was sitting on another
boulder half-watching the others work.
Tahi had nothing to do.
He got up and started walking
around the area. He tried to remember everything he could about the Pathfinder
mission. It had been a normal planetary probe, or more to the point, the first
of the normal planetary probes. As well as the main probe, there had been a
small, wheeled vehicle. It had driven around the landing site, conducting
Tahi wondered if he could find
Richard straightened. The probe
was in better order than it looked. They should have the radio working inside
eight hours, or so he estimated. There was one problem though, that no one
seemed to have realised. The radio wasn’t designed for human use, it was
connected to the probe’s computer. There was no microphone or speakers.
Tahi finally spotted the little
car. It was a six-wheeled contraption with solar panels on top. On the front
was a video camera. It had been hiding in a
semi-circle of boulders. Tahi dreaded to touch it. It was history, and
they were already disturbing the Probe. He didn’t like having to do that
He got closer to the car. He
could now read it’s name, the “Sojourner” rover.
He would have kept looking, but
Richard called out that he wanted to talk to everyone.
Kyle was devastated. They had
come all this way to discover that the radio, although repairable, was useless.
He couldn’t believe it.
It was Robert who came up with a
it has the stuff we need, if we connect it to the probe, we should be able to
communicate through that,” he explained.
less sure, “It probably won’t work, but we can try it for another six hours,
then I’m heading back to the ship.”
of surprised Kyle. There was nothing useful at the ship. The only possible good
thing was that if a rescue mission landed, it would land there. Otherwise it
wouldn’t matter where they were.
hours,” Robert confirmed, “I’ll give it a go.”
stood in front of the probe. It’s back was open and wires stretched between it
and the probe. It was an eerie sight.
wished Caleb was here. He was doing his best, but it wasn’t that same. Caleb
would have known exactly what to do, but Robert was mainly guessing.
helping too. He had a good understanding of electronics, probably better than
Roberts. Robert had the advantage of being involved in the robot’s
he really was mostly guessing.
watched patiently as the link between the robot and the probe grew even more
complex. There were wires running everywhere. The robot had a compartment
designed to carry spare wiring and other spares, so they had enough.
have been a critical part of the operation, because Robert uttered a warning.
go,” he breathed as he finished a connection.
the robot spoke.
Warning! Overload in progress!”
Richard started backing away from the robot.
Operating System! Attempting to Load Secondary Operating System!”
Robert swear, there was no secondary system.
Comply!” the robot said to itself.
Personification Steve01” the robot announced.
it. Tahi had his gun out and was aiming at the robot. It had been a
personification that had caused all the trouble, and now there was another one.
yelled at the top of his voice.
right!” Robert yelled.
said the Robot.
his gun trained on the robot the whole time as Robert explained to it about the
probe and how it was connected.
want me to activate the radio and talk through me? Is that it?” Steve01 asked.
about it,” Richard said.
relaxed and holstered his gun as the robot tunned in the radio. Maybe
personifications weren’t all bad.
communications channel,” the robot reported.
the robot’s voice disappeared and was replaced with static. It took Tahi a
while to work out what had happened.
listening to the radio.
suddenly appeared and walked forward. “Anyone there?” he demanded.
listened in horror as Darren Lack told his story. He had never expected this of
the US military.
the radio squawked.
realised with a shock that it was Kyle’s voice.
reading you,” the robot said in Ryan’s voice.
Kyle said, relief flooding into his voice.
Isaac?” demanded Richard.
here at the moment,” Ryan said tentatively, “there’s something you guys should
the radio blew up.
the first to react. He swung around and had his gun out in seconds.
time to see Eric take aim again.
slammed into the ground only meters from where he stood.
for cover behind a boulder.
The air was
filled with blaring noise as a machine-gun opened fire.
up and fired at the guy with the machine gun. The guy toppled to the ground.
behind the rocks again. In that short period of time he had seen the rest of
his team hiding behind the probe. He had also seen four attackers. Now there
cowered behind the probe. He felt sure he was going to die. He had never felt
so helpless in his life.
up again and fired. This shot nicked one of the attackers, but didn’t take him
spat again and Tahi felt something rip into his shoulder. He hit the ground
watched it happen.
finally spurred into movement. He leapt up and started to run towards Tahi when
Richard grabbed him and pulled him back.
someone coming. He griped his gun in his left hand and tried to ignore the
pain. He was prepared to fight to the death.
self-sealing space suit had blocked the bullet-hole and stopped him losing his
oxygen, but it didn’t stop the pain.
surprised when it was Richard who leapt over the boulder, seemingly oblivious
to the gunfire.
Richard the gun.
Tahi ordered, “You’re our only chance now!”
smiled and pointed the gun at Tahi.
today,” he said.
watched in horror as the gunfire stopped and Richard marched Tahi out into the
open. Tahi’s shoulder was a bloody mess, but he seemed to ignore it.
held the gun at Tahi’s head.
now, or Tahi gets it,” Richard ordered.
Kyle had no
choice, he put his hands up and walked out. Robert and Mel followed him.
watched in silence. Richard was doing a fine job. Behind him, Jesse was tending
to David, who had been shot. Tahi had proven to be an amazing marksman
considering the circumstances.
lined the four prisoners up.
I have to do this, but you’ve seen too much,” he said, raising his gun.
to Mel. “I am sorry,” he said.
suddenly heard a high-pitched whining and something knocked his legs out from
turned suddenly as he heard Eric scream.
all Tahi needed, and he landed his left fist on Richard, sending him to the
Sojourner rover again charged for Eric, but this time Eric was ready. He raised
his gun and turned the rover into scrap.
and watched as the four astronauts ran off into the distance.
them knew they had the stamina. Robert amazed himself as much as anyone. They
kept up a good pace. This time they followed the tracks left by Eric and his
men. They would get back to the ship much quicker this time.
watched as Leigh and Jesse carried the injured Thomas back towards the ship.
Richard limped along, still recovering.
himself had received a graze from a bullet, but he ignored it. This part of the
mission may have been a failure, but it would still end all right. Thomas was
back at the “Swindler’s List” and he would be able to stop the now completely
un-armed astronauts from escaping in the “List”. Eric lifted Tahi’s gun, the
only threat from the astronauts had been removed. And Conrad would still be in
control of the “Bradman.” There would be no escape for them.
it that bowled Eric over?” asked Kyle when he could catch his breath.
Steve001,” Robert explained breathlessly.
confused. “But the robot didn’t move, it was destroyed.”
it must have been still functioning. When we connected it to the probe, we gave
it access to the probe’s computer, and that controlled the Sojourner rover,”
laughed slightly in spite of the pain, “I always thought that little
rover-thing looked cool,” he said.
Robert, Mel, and Tahi stumbled into view of the shuttles. With all their
running they were now desperately low on oxygen. The shuttles were a sight for
Or so they
thought until they saw the man holding a gun at them.
his men arrived shortly after.
Jesse, and Leigh were armed and approached the shuttles cautiously.
no sign of life.
his arm and Richard helped David limp toward the “List.”
was no one about, it meant that Thomas must have them held prisoner on board
NASA, ask if they want us to kill them?” he ordered Richard.
Richard said and headed for the “List.”
He ran up
the ramp ahead of Leigh and swore loudly as soon as he was inside.
Jesse immediately raced in to see what had happened. Lying on the floor of the
“List” was an unconscious body.
Eric hurried to the window. The
“Bradman” was preparing to take-off.
“Call NASA!” he bellowed, “The
situation has changed!”
Jesse grabbed the mike. “Isaac!” he
“Not quite, traitor!” Darren Lack’s
voice came back.
Jesse switched off the radio. “NASA
has been breached,” he reported, “It’s up to us now.”
Richard leapt into the pilot seat
with Leigh beside him. The “Swindler’s List” was a modified shuttle carrying
weapons. All he had to do was line up with the “Bradman” and blast it to
Eric appeared from the back of the
shuttle carrying a metal case. He saluted to Jesse. “You know what to do, pick
me up in about an hour, you’re in command,” he said.
Jesse nodded and Eric headed down
“Prepare for take-off!” Jesse
Eric ran for the boulders as the
“Bradman” lowered it’s take-off legs and slowly lifted itself vertical.
The “Swindler’s List” was doing the
same a couple of minutes later.
When Eric considered himself far
enough away, he turned back to watch. The “Bradman” fired it’s thrusters. It
rose up into space.
Two minutes later the “Swindler’s
List” did the same.
In the “Bradman” Andrew gripped the
controls as the shuttle fought the atmosphere. He was at a complete loss as to
why the “Swindler’s List” had taken off after them. There was nothing they
could do to them now.
“Umm…” James began to say, “We took
all the guns with us to this ship, but Conrad said something about the other
ship having mounted guns.”
Andrew swore. A shuttle with guns?
He couldn’t believe NASA would allow it, but then again, Isaac had turned out
to be a rotten egg.
“Well,” Andrew though, “maybe they
can do something to us after all.”
Richard smiled as the “Swindler’s
List” slowly caught up to the “Bradman.” The “List” had a new thruster drive
and was faster then the “Bradman.”
Andrew was a pretty fair pilot, but
Richard was sure he was better. And they were almost in targeting range.
Andrew knew they were catching, but
there was nothing he could do about it. His ship was slower and un-armed. What
could he do?
It was Conrad who saved the day.
Richard watched as Andrew changed
course. “You can’t lose me that easily!” he thought and adjusted to follow.
Their new course was almost a stationary orbit around Mars. Richard didn’t know
what Andrew was trying, but he knew he’d have a target lock in less than a
Andrew didn’t know what he was
trying, but Conrad did.
“Just another minute…” Conrad
Richard smiled as he thought of Eric
on the planet behind him. Richard would succeed where Eric had failed. Richard
would destroy the “Bradman” and it’s crew.
Pity about Mel, but it couldn’t be
“Almost there!” Conrad said.
“Yes!” Richard yelled, “Target Lock.”
“Fire at will!” Jesse ordered.
Suddenly a heap of red warning
lights came on. An alarm sounded.
“Collision Imminent” it said
Richard looked up in shock and
disbelief as an asteroid appeared in the window, rapidly growing to block out
all other view.
“HOLD ON!” He screamed as he yanked
at the controls.
The “Swindler’s List” valiantly
tried to miss it, but it couldn’t change course fast enough. The explosion lit
up the dark of space.
The crew of the “Bradman” looked in
wonder at the cloud of debris that once was the “Swindler’s List.”
“I got so bored on my own that I
plotted the courses for all the asteroids around Mars,” Conrad explained.
“Good for us you did,” Andrew said.
“Next stop, Earth,” Kyle said.
Kyle listened to the radio in shock
as Darren Lack told him what had happened. The US military had been responsible
for the nuclear missiles, but they had hoped and planned never to use them. It
was supposed to be a final threat to use to protect the United States. Few
people knew about it. It was the final card the US could play to prevent a
Darren had been told by Eric that
Kyle’s mission was going to land on the other side of Mars from the missiles,
so there would be no problem, but Isaac and Eric had been in it together. They
needed to come up with a reason to get Eric up to Mars so he could take control
of the missiles and use them to hold the world at ransom.
“So who programmed Conrad?” asked
“Eric did,” James said simply, “he
used his direct-link and created Conrad.”
“How did he get Conrad on the ship’s
computer; and who deleted the other personifications?” Robert asked.
“It was Leigh, when you were at the
farewell party,” Darren explained. “He installed Conrad and Conrad deleted the
Kyle turned to James and Andrew,
“And what about you? How’d you get control?”
“Conrad told me the whole story, so
Andrew and I overpowered Thomas and stole the weapons.” James explained.
“And so Conrad turned out to be
good?” Kyle asked in disbelief.
“He’s very smart. He altered his
programming when he radioed NASA. The plan was that he’d keep quiet for a few
more days and then radio. That way when Eric arrived on Mars all you would be
dead, except Richard, who had a special storage tank of air onboard the
“Bradman” that he didn’t tell anyone about. Eric and his men would still be
considered heros and they wouldn’t have had to actually kill you. Once Conrad
broke the programming it was easy to do it again; he never really wanted to
“And what was Eric going to do to
the missiles?” Mel asked.
“He was going to replace the
receivers with these,” James held up a piece of electronic equipment, “and
these would allow his organization on earth to control the missiles. We nicked
these when we stole the weapons from his ship. If only we’d known about the
guns on the “Swindler’s List” we could have disarmed it too.”
“So who shot at me back on Earth?”
“Eric still wanted to go up alone
with his men. No civs. So Isaac gave him the names of some of the most annoying
NASA people for Eric’s men to dispatch, but they blotched the job. Katy is
rumoured to have found out about Isaac’s plan. We’ll find out when she regains
conscience. And you happened to be the other one.”
“I’m glad they missed,” Andrew said.
Darren’s spoke over the radio, “We
are currently rounding up the remains of Eric’s group here on Earth.”
“So it’s over?” asked Tahi.
“Yes it is, you did well,” Darren
Tahi smiled, at least not all the
army had gone bad.
“Well, this is all very interesting,
but if you don’t mind, I’ll borrow the radio for a while. There’s a certain
young lady I’d like to talk to back home.” Kyle said.
Eric Roboticalien stood before one
of the nuclear missiles on Mars. Before him lay an empty case that had once
contained the replacement receivers destined for the missiles. Now he could do
nothing. He had seen the explosion and he knew that it must have been the
“Swindler’s List”, because it had not returned to get him.
He was alone on the planet with no
way of getting home and no way to contact anyone. He now knew what Kyle had
making of this story.
read this before the story, because it will spoil it)
This story party owes it’s existence
to two people, apart from me. Both of them feature in this story. One is Kyle.
About half a year ago, Kyle wrote a story about some baked-bean monsters that
started killing people. The story was pathetic, but very funny because it used the
names of people from our school.
I really enjoyed this, and so did
the second person, Eric. He decided to write his own story using this idea. So,
one day during break, we had a brainstorming session because he wanted ideas.
His first idea was a story about a
madman (him) trying to take over the world. I didn’t like this idea and so we
kept chucking ideas back and forth. We came up with a good idea about a
take-over situation board a space station. Eric would again be the bad guy
leading the invasion. This story had potential, but we disagreed on major
points. Eric wanted a huge space station with hundreds of people. I, on the
other hand, wanted a small, but vital, space station with only a small crew.
The other problem was that Eric
wanted to write a comedy like Kyle’s but I wanted it to be a more serious
story. We eventually came up with the idea of a hostile take-over on Mars. We
both liked that. And when I suggested using the Pathfinder Probe, it seemed to
Still Eric wanted a comedy, and I
wanted serious, so we split and decided to write our own stories. Eric has not
started his and now has a completely different plot and setting.
I asked Eric for permission to cast
him as the bad guy, and he agreed. I suggest he had a mechanical arm, and Eric
I also sort of involved Kyle in the
writing process. I asked him if he wanted a girl-friend and he said yes.
I always planed to put James in the
story, but to start with I wasn’t sure on the role. I though a crazy scientist
would suit him.
I emailed James’s sister, Jo, and
asked her if she wanted a role, and she said yes, she wanted to be Kyle’s
girlfriend. Kyle was happy with it. I think they both regret it now, but not to
Some of the characters are in their
roles because Eric suggested it during our brainstorming session. Mel is one of
these. Do if you don’t like your role, blame Eric.
I wanted to try and write a story
that would keep the writer guessing so I wanted a good guy to be a bad guy. I
wanted someone that everyone would trust. I chose Richard and Leigh. They
defiantly don’t fit the role I gave them. I gave it to them because I couldn’t
imagine them in it, and that’s what I wanted.
I can’t remember why I made Richard
like Mel, but I left it in there.
I hope Tahi likes his role, I would
if I were him.
Eric suggested I use Aroha, but when
I heard her response to someone else’s story I decided against it. I renamed
her character Katy for no known reason.
And now we come to Conrad. His first
name is Robert, same as me, but it gets confusing so we call him Conrad. He
really isn’t like the computer program, and I doubt if he’s seen “2001 A Space
Odyssey”. I just thought Conrad was a cool name for a computer.
James didn’t like the idea of being
a physiatrist until I told him he’d only be working with computers, and now he
turns out to be a hero.
Caleb is a cousin of mine, and he
often used to be building things that I couldn’t even imagine doing. So he was
the first person I though of.
Darren Lack was a friend at Scouts,
but I haven’t seen him in ages. I just thought his name was a good one to use
in that role.
Andrew is a friend and I don’t mean
to put him down, but I liked the idea of the pilot being drunk and Eric and I
had decided Andrew would be the pilot of the second shuttle.
When I first started to write this
story, I planned to begin with the first shuttle under-way or just lifting off.
I ended up writing the story from further back than that. I mainly did this
because I needed a bit of history for the characters. Now I know a bit more
about them, I could almost drop the first two parts.
When I first finished the story, I
had Jesse being left on Mars while Eric died on the “List”. I decided that it
would be more fitting for Eric to be left on Mars. I also had no real reason
for leaving Jesse there except someone had to in order for my story to work
The word “Discom” as used early in
the story means “disconnect and goodbye” so is a fitting way to end an email.
And last of all, the names of the
shuttles, “Bradman” is, of course, Sir Donald Bradman, and a good name for a
space ship. If Aussie ever gets a space program it wouldn’t surprise me to see
“Bradman” on one of it’s space ships. And “Swindler’s List” is a spoof of a
movie called “Schindler’s List.” I have never seen the movie, but I have the
music on tape and can never remember what it is called, so I call it Swindler’s
List. Mum thought this was amusing so I named a shuttle after it.
Right from the start I wanted to use
technology that wasn’t too futuristic. I used stuff that has it’s basis now.
Probably the most notable is the Direct-Link with a computer. I explained that
a little in the actual story. I saw a news story where a doctor was trying to
help people with attention problems and learning disabilities. He made a
machine that could tell when a person’s brain was focusing on something. He
made a program with a spaceship that would fire it’s rockets when the child
focused on it. I simply upgraded that concept for the story. The more advanced
the DL technologies became, the fewer people could use them. That’s why in the
book only Eric can use it.
The Anti-grav device is fact. It has
been done on a small scale. As I said in the story, it was tested on a frog who
was kept in a chamber only slightly bigger than itself. The Woofle twins were
good at hockey, so I added that into the story.
The personifications are simply
And I think that’s about all I can
think of to say.
for reading, and goodbye!
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