www.Headless Moron.com
                    A Seriously Froody Website









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.

            Since 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.

            So feel free to read and enjoy this story, but please do not take offence at it.

Part 1






            Ten years into the future.


            “Hit the 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.

            The team 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 anguish.

            “Come on, sir!” yelled Simons, “the chopper’s almost here!”

            As Eric turned to follow he saw an Iraqi throw a grenade. Everything seemed to go in slow motion as he sprinted for the under-growth.

            Suddenly 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.

            Simons and 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.

            Eric 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.

            Eric couldn’t wait for the final day of take-off.



            Kyle 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.

            Kyle 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.

            It still 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.

            The moon 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.

            For years 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 mission.

            Kyle smiled 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 perfectly.

            “Okay, try it now,” he said.

            Robert 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.

            “Stand back,” he warned as he pressed a button.

            In the 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.

            “Activating test sequence,” Robert said.

            The robot’s arms jerked and moved. It’s arms swung up and then started to move in a seemingly random manner in all directions.

            “Notice how its movement has increased over 10%,” Caleb said as he walked over to Robert’s computer. Robert nodded.

            “Final test are tomorrow, will it be ready?” Robert asked.

            “She’s ready now,” Caleb said, “I’m just improving it. The question is, will the soft-ware be ready?”

            “Don’t 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.”

            Caleb shook 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 waiting.”



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 site.

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 did.

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 program?

Scamman: I have.

Jawa: Good.

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 payment?

Jawa: As soon as it has been tested.

Scamman: I wait.

Jawa: Discom.

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.




            Caleb 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.

            “Is the soft-ware done?” He asked.

            Robert 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 in.

            “Beginning upload now.” He said, pressing a button. The computer whirred and lights on the robot flashed briefly.

            “It’s done.” Caleb reported.

            Robert walked up to the robot. “Turn it on?” he asked.

            Caleb nodded and Robert flicked the switch.

            The robot 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.

            “Awaiting command,” it said.

            Robert smiled. So far it was all working. “Disconnect from computer,” he ordered.

            The robot obediently ejected the cord.

            Caleb walked up, holding a spanner. He threw it lightly across the room. “Robot, get the spanner.” He commanded.

            “Acknowledged!” the robot said and obediently trundled across the room. Reached down and picked up the spanner. It then returned to it’s original position.

            “Task Completed,” it reported.

            Now Caleb 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.

            “One more thing,” Robert said, reconnecting the computer cord. He walked over to the computer and inserted the other CD.

            “What is it?” Caleb asked warily.

            “It’s a personification,” Robert said proudly.

            Caleb 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.

            Robert smiled. “It’s not Microsoft,” he assured, “It’s a privately made one.”

            Now Caleb was worried. “How do you know if you can trust it?”

            “I trust the source.” He explained, uploading the file.

            Caleb was slightly afraid it might wreak all their hard work. Robert didn’t seem to be worried.

            “Robot, list personifications.” He demanded.

            “One found. Labelled Steeve001” the robot replied.

            “Activate file.” Robert ordered.

            Caleb looked on, worried.

            The robot 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 boy.

            “Hi” it said.

            Robert’s grin widened. “Eject cord.”

            “Sure thing.” The cord popped out.

            “Robot, deactivate steeve001,” Caleb ordered.

            “See ya,” the voice said, and then went silent.

            Robert was annoyed. “What’d you do that for?”

            “Trust me, personifications aren’t always good things,” Caleb said, in a sour tone.

            The two men finished the tests in silence, neither felt like talking.




            Once again, 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.






Part 2






            Eric 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.

            First there 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 fairly well.

            Next was 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.

            Then there 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.

            Then there was Robert. He had been fine with the technical stuff, but had almost failed the physical side of training.

            And last 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.





            The last 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.

            Kyle 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.

            “Oh well,” thought Kyle, if he was going to have a hope of enjoying the party, it would be with Jo.





            Kyle wasn’t 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.

            Robert sighed. 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 soon.




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 protect them.

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 table.

“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.






            Robert 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 Wars.

“Any mail?” he asked. The computer did a quick search and reported back.

“One sir.”

“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 explained.

“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 brother.

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 Eric’s men.

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 looked impatient.

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 small enough.

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,” he requested.




“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 through.

“Guess what I have here?” he asked.

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 stirringly.

Kyle blushed bright red and felt relieved at the same time. He could imagine hearing Jo’s reaction when she found out.

“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 ready.





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 destruction.

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 reached one.

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 occupy her.

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 atmosphere!”

The control room suddenly burst into noise as the technicians cheered and laughed. They’d done it!

Kyle’s voice came back, “Next stop. …Mars!”







Part 3






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 beyond him.




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 headed down.

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 much easier.

He had no more time to think, as there was a sudden jerk and the skids touched. Richard was thrown forward in his seat.

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.

It didn’t.

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 ecstatic.

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 tentatively.

“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 this.

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 better.

“This is one small step for a man…..” He breathed.

His foot touched the surface.

“And one giant leap forward for mankind!”






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 fantastic.

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 were for.






Robert watched protectively as the robot rolled down it’s ramp. It seemed to have survived the journey perfectly.

“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 of hours.




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 off.

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 tried.

“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.”

“Personifications include 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 demanded.

“Unknown command, please restate,” the computer said again.

“And I thought it was just me,” said Richard.

“Computer, list personifications with intact files,” Robert tried.

“1 personification found. Conrad005.”

“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?” Robert asked.

“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 them.

Tahi’s face fell. He didn’t believe it.

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 Robert.

“It was me! I did it!” the computer gloated.

Robert couldn’t believe his ears. “Who gave you permission?” he demanded.

“Not telling!” the computer chirped.

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.





            Ryan 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 button.






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 had gone.

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 happened?”

Robert was adjusting the radio’s controls. “I haven’t got a clue!”

“I know, guys,” said a bored voice.

“Who is that?” Kyle demanded.

“My name is Conrad,” the voice replied.

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 casually.

“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 toward Earth.

 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 secret weapon.

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!” he screamed.

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 high-tech.

“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 time.





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 Robert spoke.

“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 breathed.

“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 prompted.

“…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 explained.

“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 said.

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?” Tahi asked.

“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 go.”

“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 agreed.

They set out with Tahi taking the point and the Robot rolling along behind them towing the air tanks on a makeshift sled.

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.





Part 4







“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 happened.

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 end.”

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.





            Jo 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.






            Ryan was 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.

            Suddenly the computers all started beeping. Ryan was already heading for his station when one of the others reported.

            “We’re getting a signal, sir. Tunning for it now!”

            Ryan punched Isaac’s buzzer remote and sat down staring at his screen. He joined the crew of technicians working to tune it in.

            Isaac couldn’t have been far away, as he in the room almost immediately. “Punch it on the main screen!” he ordered.

            “Sorry sir, no visual, only audio.” One of the techs reported.

            “On speakers, then.”


            The room was filled with the sound of static and a faint undertone of a voice. As the techs worked, the voice got clearer and louder.

            Emma appeared in the room. “That’s not one of the crew,” she observed.

            She was right. The voice was a new one. It sounded bored and vaguely sinister.

            “Hello everyone,” it said, suddenly clear of all static.

            Isaac 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.

            “I have taken control of the Bradman, and the crew has just left,” the voice informed him.

            “Gone where?”

            “I don’t know. They turned off all the microphones. And I wouldn’t tell you if I knew,” the voice continued.

            Isaac was 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.”

            The voice replied before Ryan could even start. “They took all the air with them. There’s none on the ship.”

            “What? How come?” Isaac seemed completely out of his depth.

            “I let it all out,” Conrad replied.

            Isaac swore.

            “Goodbye Dave,” Conrad said and ended the connection.

            “Who’s Dave?” asked Emma.





            Ryan looked 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?

            The Bradman 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.

            No matter what the answer, a rescue mission was much more urgent.




            Ryan’s computer had been running a scan on the voice. Suddenly it flashed up a message.

            “Um…sir, take a look at this.”

            “What?” asked Isaac.

            “According to the voice scan, Conrad is a computer.”





            It had 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.

            “Not Microsoft?” queried Isaac.

            “We don’t make all personifications, just the best,” boasted the expert.

            “Then who?” asked Isaac.

            “I really 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.”

            “How can 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.

            “Then how 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.





            Eric found 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.”

            “What do you mean …the rest?” Isaac asked, puzzled.

            “I’m going up! I won’t abandon Richard!” Leigh retorted.

            Isaac 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.

            Eric 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.”

            Isaac 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,” he explained.

            Eric nodded. “How many NASA people could you send?” he asked.

            “We can 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.

            “That can 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.

            “I have just the ones,” Isaac said.






            Ryan shook 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, well…Andrew.






            Andrew 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.

            Whatever it 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.

            He completely failed to notice the window smash into thousands of pieces.

            He looked down again as he felt hot water splash against his legs. Where was it coming from?

            He looked at the jug. Leaking, just as he’d thought.

            He picked it up. There was a small neat hole in the side facing the window.

            Small and round.

            Suddenly he swore and dived behind the bench.

            It was a bullet hole.

            He’s just been shot at!






            Eric’s 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.

            Eric had 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.

            He’d have to get sober real fast.





            Isaac 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.

            Isaac 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.





            Isaac was 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.

            “This is James Darman, the computer guy from Microsoft,” the guard introduced him.

            Isaac quickly recovered himself. He had expected the expert to be different, but he wasn’t quite sure what he had expected.

            “Welcome,” Isaac begun, “have you heard the recording we made of the computer?”

            “Yes,” James said simply.

            Isaac waited for him to continue.

            He didn’t.

            “Well, what did you think?” Isaac asked finally.

            “A good quality recording, not bad at all considering the situation,” James replied.

            “Not about the recording, about the Conrad computer!” Isaac demanded.

            James sat 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.

            “Is the software a living thing?” Isaac asked softly.

            “That is open to speculation, but Conrad probably believes he is.” James expounded.

            “Well, what do you suggest we do?” Isaac asked.

            “Shut him 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.”

            “We can’t,” Isaac said. We have no way to communicate with him or shut him down.”

            “You can communicate, he can hear you, even if he doesn’t reply,” James said solemnly.






            Eric 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.

            The “Swindler’s List.”

            Eric’s 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.

            Against a 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 Conrad.

            There was another enemy on Mars.






            James and Isaac sat in the control room, watching the screen intently.

            There was nothing on it.

            James was talking into the radio, trying to provoke a response from the computer program.

            There was silence.

            James 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.”

            Isaac handed him a group of folders, “We have five people up there, we just can’t communicate with them.”

            James paused and glanced over the dossiers. “Hopeless, completely hopeless. None of these people have any experience with personifications at all.”

            “What about Robert Kingston, our computer man?” asked Isaac.

            “He’s no 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 offered.

            “We can’t 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.

            Then the insistent beeping came again.

            It was coming from her computer.

            She froze suddenly. The Bradman had been taken over by a computer, and now hers was beeping at her.

            She realised just how paranoid she’d become when she saw the familiar icon flashing.

            She had an email.

            She logged 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.

            Caleb Muggerage.





            Isaac and 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.

            And James 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 there.

            “It’s not his fault he was programmed wrongly, and he certainly shouldn’t be destroyed because of it,” James insisted.

            Isaac was convinced enough to let him come, but Eric still had reservations.

            “It would be much easier with as few civilians as possible. Leigh here is almost military anyway, but about the other two…” Eric complained.

            “You couldn’t even get up there without a pilot, and James is the best chance we’ve got to talk down the Conrad thing.

            “As you say,” Eric reluctantly conceded.





            The afternoon and night went very quickly, and Eric soon found himself sitting in the “Swindler’s List” awaiting the countdown.

            Behind him, his soldiers were waiting tensely.

            James was sitting semi-relaxed besides him.

            Leigh and a now-sober Andrew sat up the front running last-minute checks.

            Eric smiled to himself.

            This would be interesting.






Part 5





            The trip 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.

            They would have to find them quickly.






            Andrew put 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.

            The shuttle 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”.

            Eric finally donned his helmet. “We’re going for a recon. You three civs stay here. Leave this to us.”

            The four 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.

            Soon enough they rounded the “Bradman” and saw the airlock.

            It was still open.

            “Brace yourselves!” Eric ordered. “It might not be pretty in there.”





            Eric was the first to enter the ship, the others right behind him. Instead of finding dead bodies, they found nothing.

            Well, almost nothing.

            They found a note.





            To whoever finds this.

            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 the Bradman.




            “At least 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, fine,” Eric said thoughtfully, “and tell James to get over here while your at it.”

            “Yes sir!”





            James switched on the speakers and waited. There was nothing.

            He looked around nervously under the eyes of the soldiers. “Conrad, can you hear me?”

            Still there was silence.

            “Conrad! Answer me!” James demanded.

            “Why should I?” a bored voice responded.

            James grinned in triumph. “Conrad, I’m here to help you.”

            “Yeah, yeah,” Conrad droned.

            “My name is James and I’m telling the truth.”

            “Bye Dave,” and then the silence returned.

            “This will take a while.” James said.





            Everone was back on the “Swindler’s List.”

            “NASA said 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.”

            “NASA authorized that?” Eric queried.

            “Straight from Isaac himself.”

            “Right, we leave immediately.” Eric decided, “Leigh, you’re with us, Thomas, you stay here with the other two civs.”

            “Right-o” Thomas agreed.

            “Okay, move out!” Eric ordered.





Eric, Jesse, Leigh, and David soon located the tracks leading away from the Bradman.

“Can you follow these tracks?” asked Eric.

“If anyone can, I can,” Jesse voiced.

Eric smiled. They all loved a challenge.



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 classified.

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 hung up.

“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,” Conrad explained.

“I know,” James repeated.

“It’s just how I was programmed,” Conrad said.

“I understand, I really do,” James coaxed.

“It’s just how he programmed me,” Conrad mumbled.

“Who programmed you?” James asked quietly.

“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 again.

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 attack.

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.”




Part 6









            Tahi 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 numerous tests.

Tahi wondered if he could find it.





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 either.

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 solution.

            “The Robot, it has the stuff we need, if we connect it to the probe, we should be able to communicate through that,” he explained.

            Richard was less sure, “It probably won’t work, but we can try it for another six hours, then I’m heading back to the ship.”

            That sort 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.

            “Six hours,” Robert confirmed, “I’ll give it a go.”





            The robot stood in front of the probe. It’s back was open and wires stretched between it and the probe. It was an eerie sight.

            Robert 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.

            Richard was helping too. He had a good understanding of electronics, probably better than Roberts. Robert had the advantage of being involved in the robot’s construction.

            Even still, he really was mostly guessing.





            Tahi 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.

            It must have been a critical part of the operation, because Robert uttered a warning.

            “Here we go,” he breathed as he finished a connection.

            Suddenly the robot spoke.

            “Warning! Warning! Overload in progress!”

            Robert and Richard started backing away from the robot.

            “Deactivating Operating System! Attempting to Load Secondary Operating System!”

            Tahi heard Robert swear, there was no secondary system.

            “Cannot Comply!” the robot said to itself.

            “Activating Personification Steve01” the robot announced.

            That was 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.





            Robert yelled at the top of his voice.

            “Don’t shoot!”

            Tahi hesitated.

            “It’s all right!” Robert yelled.

            Tahi wasn’t convinced.

            “Trust me,” said Robert.





            “Hi there,” said the Robot.

            Tahi had his gun trained on the robot the whole time as Robert explained to it about the probe and how it was connected.

            “So you want me to activate the radio and talk through me? Is that it?” Steve01 asked.

            “That’s about it,” Richard said.






            Tahi relaxed and holstered his gun as the robot tunned in the radio. Maybe personifications weren’t all bad.

            “Opening communications channel,” the robot reported.

            Suddenly the robot’s voice disappeared and was replaced with static. It took Tahi a while to work out what had happened.

            They were listening to the radio.

            They waited.


            Kyle suddenly appeared and walked forward. “Anyone there?” he demanded.






            Ryan listened in horror as Darren Lack told his story. He had never expected this of the US military.

            Suddenly the radio squawked.

            “Anyone there?”

            Ryan realised with a shock that it was Kyle’s voice.




            “NASA here, reading you,” the robot said in Ryan’s voice.

            “Ryan!” Kyle said, relief flooding into his voice.

            “Where’s Isaac?” demanded Richard.

            “He’s not here at the moment,” Ryan said tentatively, “there’s something you guys should know….”

            And then the radio blew up.





            Tahi was the first to react. He swung around and had his gun out in seconds.

            Just in time to see Eric take aim again.

            A bullet slammed into the ground only meters from where he stood.

            Tahi leapt for cover behind a boulder.

            The air was filled with blaring noise as a machine-gun opened fire.

            Tahi leapt up and fired at the guy with the machine gun. The guy toppled to the ground.

            Tahi dived 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 were three.





            Robert cowered behind the probe. He felt sure he was going to die. He had never felt so helpless in his life.




            Tahi leapt up again and fired. This shot nicked one of the attackers, but didn’t take him down.

            Eric’s gun spat again and Tahi felt something rip into his shoulder. He hit the ground heavily.





            Kyle watched it happen.

            He was finally spurred into movement. He leapt up and started to run towards Tahi when Richard grabbed him and pulled him back.

            “I’ll go!” said Richard.




            Tahi saw someone coming. He griped his gun in his left hand and tried to ignore the pain. He was prepared to fight to the death.

            His new self-sealing space suit had blocked the bullet-hole and stopped him losing his oxygen, but it didn’t stop the pain.

            He was surprised when it was Richard who leapt over the boulder, seemingly oblivious to the gunfire.

            Tahi tossed Richard the gun.

            “Shoot em!” Tahi ordered, “You’re our only chance now!”

            Richard smiled and pointed the gun at Tahi.

            “Not today,” he said.





            Kyle 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.

            Richard held the gun at Tahi’s head.

            “Come out now, or Tahi gets it,” Richard ordered.

            Kyle had no choice, he put his hands up and walked out. Robert and Mel followed him.





            Eric 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.

            Richard lined the four prisoners up.

            “I’m sorry I have to do this, but you’ve seen too much,” he said, raising his gun.

            He turned to Mel. “I am sorry,” he said.

            Eric suddenly heard a high-pitched whining and something knocked his legs out from under him.





            Richard turned suddenly as he heard Eric scream.

            That was all Tahi needed, and he landed his left fist on Richard, sending him to the ground.





            The Sojourner rover again charged for Eric, but this time Eric was ready. He raised his gun and turned the rover into scrap.

            He turned and watched as the four astronauts ran off into the distance.


Part 7





            None of 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.




            Eric watched as Leigh and Jesse carried the injured Thomas back towards the ship. Richard limped along, still recovering.

            Eric 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.





            “What was it that bowled Eric over?” asked Kyle when he could catch his breath.

            “It was Steve001,” Robert explained breathlessly.

            Kyle was confused. “But the robot didn’t move, it was destroyed.”

            “Not quite, 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,” Robert explained.

            Tahi laughed slightly in spite of the pain, “I always thought that little rover-thing looked cool,” he said.





            Kyle, 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 sore eyes.

            Or so they thought until they saw the man holding a gun at them.





            Eric and his men arrived shortly after.

            Eric, Jesse, and Leigh were armed and approached the shuttles cautiously.

            There was no sign of life.

            Eric waved his arm and Richard helped David limp toward the “List.”

            If there was no one about, it meant that Thomas must have them held prisoner on board the “List.”

            “Contact NASA, ask if they want us to kill them?” he ordered Richard.

            “Yes sir,” Richard said and headed for the “List.”

            He ran up the ramp ahead of Leigh and swore loudly as soon as he was inside.

            Eric and Jesse immediately raced in to see what had happened. Lying on the floor of the “List” was an unconscious body.

            Thomas’s 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 demanded.

            “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 pieces.

            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 the ramp.

            “Prepare for take-off!” Jesse yelled.





            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 minute.





            Andrew didn’t know what he was trying, but Conrad did.

            “Just another minute…” Conrad encouraged.






            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 helped.





            “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 Nuclear war.

            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 Robert.

            “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 other personifications.”

            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 hurt anyone.”

            “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?” asked Andrew.

            “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 said.

            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.

            Nobody objected.





            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 felt like.


The End

For Now








Part 8

The making of this story.


(Don’t 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 be brilliant.

            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 loved it.

            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 worry.

            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 properly.

            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 advanced software.

            And I think that’s about all I can think of to say.



Thanks for reading, and goodbye!


Back To Stories