Preview Reach for Mars

When Outer Space Becomes Home Sweet Home

A riveting science fiction thriller . . .

goodreadsSee what happens when a manned space flight to Mars is launched, but back on Earth, a nuclear war makes it impossible for the crew to return.

The riveting novel Reach for Mars is a journey that began with hope, but proceeds with despair. After the shattering events on Earth, the space explorers suddenly become settlers on the Red Planet. Their two-year assignment has just become permanent.

What surprises await on Mars, and how can the crew ensure that humankind is saved from extinction?

 

Customer reviews

Surprising Fun. Loved this book! Not what I expected at all. A fun, easy read--very upbeat! Witty dialogue. Can't wait for the sequel!
Barbara Sattora

Great book and well worth the time. The book is witty and the story moves along at a great pace and I was done before I knew it. The story lines for book 2 are endless with what is left of earth on one side and the mysterious garbled signal (aliens?) on the other. I look forward to book 2. Keep up the great work.
Scandals

... and you lose some!

Beach Read This is a fairly quick read. There are some loopholes that are never explained. There are also words that are capitalized in the middle of sentences that would not usually done that way. I don't know if this is an editing error or if it was to emphasize the word. There is no description of the two main characters. And a microphone is called a mike, not a mic. Maybe that's how it's done is Australia, I couldn't say. Just nitpicking I suppose.
Mike White

 

Read some excerpts from Reach for Mars

INTRODUCTION.

SCIENCE OR FICTION!



Ever since humans dropped out of the trees and started walking around on two legs, they have always looked up at night and gazed at the stars in wonder. Sitting at their fires outside their caves, as large creatures blundered around them in the dark, or eons later sitting at their campfires after riding the range all day herding and driving large creatures, who blundered around him in the dark, they would look up and gaze at the stars in wonder.

They saw groups of stars that they thought made shapes and gave them names. They saw planets among the stars and gave them names. They used them to explain previously unexplainable events on planet Earth. They used them to navigate their way around our planet, and they even used them to predict our future (for better or worse). They invented telescopes so they could look at them more closely, which they made larger and larger so they could look at them even more closely. Today they fire telescopes into space so they can look at them really closely.

As humanity progressed, a new breed of humans evolved: men and women who dreamed of flying to the stars and wrote stories about their dreams, which we call science fiction—Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, and the list goes on.

Their stories have enthralled and inspired generations of young children and teenagers to dream of flying to the stars themselves. Some grew up to follow that dream and became scientists specializing in astrophysics and rocket propulsion technology to try to make that dream come true.

The writers posed the question, “What if we could?”

The scientists developed the technology, So we could!

All of the technology described in this novel to fly my astronauts to Mars, keep them alive while they’re there, and fly them back home again exists and is well known to NASA scientists. Most of it has been tested and proven, and the rest is in the process of being proven by NASA scientists, the Mars Society, and the National Space Society, among others.

If the major governments of the world cut back on the funds they pour into developing weapons of mass destruction and used those funds to explore and terraform Mars into a livable environment for man, surely that would be a better future for mankind.

Anyway, as you read this novel, ask yourself:

Is it science or fiction?

Enjoy the journey!

PROLOGUE

We could hear the rumble of high-powered rocket engines warming up at idle from the other side of the airfield as we climbed aboard the transport. That rumble grew steadily louder as we were carried across the airfield toward the hangar, until I could feel the vibrations of it in my chest. As we climbed down from the Hummer and approached the external crew access door, the engines shut down one by one so that when we entered and walked down the corridor to the main hangar, our footsteps and their echoes off the walls were the only sounds that filled an eerie silence. As we entered the main hangar, we all stopped in our tracks and gazed up at the spaceship resting on her launch ramp above us.

With the brilliance of the overhead hangar arc lights reflecting off her white paint and her nose canted up thirty degrees, she looked as if she was flying to the stars without us. She was breathtakingly beautiful. She was to be our home for roughly two years—one hundred and eighty days of flight time to Mars, three hundred and seventy days of living and working there, and one hundred and eighty days for the return journey, or thereabouts. She was named Albatross after the fabled bird, a legendary symbol of hope and good luck to ancient (and not-so-ancient) mariners.

She would have had a classic flying saucer shape if it weren’t for the array of three huge thrusters poking out of her stern. There was one port thruster and one starboard thruster, and nestled between them but slightly higher on the stern was the main thruster. There were also twin Titan rocket boosters mounted to her underbelly, which gave the impression that she was carrying two very large torpedoes. They were there to save us fuel and to help blast us up to exit speed into the stratosphere, where they would be released to parachute back to Earth to be recovered, serviced, and refueled ready for the next launch. The spell was broken by the approach of Colonel Holman McCallum. He looked over his shoulder and upward, saying,

“She certainly is a beautiful ship to behold. I have no doubt that you two clowns are dying to launch her into space and send her blazing through the solar system toward Mars.” “Yes, sir!” Nick and I replied immediately. He shook our hands and then the hands of the rest of the crew, wishing us all the best of luck. Then he escorted us to the elevator that would lift us to the entry hatch into the ship.

The other four crew members stepped onto the elevator, and it started to rise. Holly, as the colonel was known, grabbed our arms and led us into a room nearby. After closing the door, he turned and walked to his briefcase, opened it, and pulled out two astronaut canteens, which he held out to us. Although they looked like normal canteens, they were designed to be used in zero gravity, so they had a one way valve stem to draw out the liquid. More like a Sippy cup than a canteen, really.

“We’ve already got one each, sir,” I said.

“Not like these, you haven’t. They’re filled with rum.” We took them eagerly and thanked him.

“Think of it as a going away gift, and I stress going away,” he said with a smile. “I figure you won’t come across many corner liquor stores out there, although I suppose you could order it on the Internet, but you’d have Buckley’s chance of getting it delivered to you! Drink it slowly; it’s got to last you twenty-four months or more.”

We thanked him again as we stepped onto the elevator, and it started to rise. Holly once again shook our hands and wished us good luck on the gantry outside the entry hatch. He couldn’t follow us into the ship, because he wasn’t wearing magnetic boots, which were required to keep from sliding down the thirty-degree slope of the metal deck and crashing into the aft bulkhead. After we were fully suited up and strapped into our launch chairs, there wasn’t really anything for us to do while the techies did the final checks and preparations to launch, so I let my mind wander back to the time when I had first met Nicholas Watson.

CHAPTER 1

I was fresh out of Top Gun fighter school, where I had passed with flying colors (pardon the pun) and was transferred to Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada. Nick and I were never formally introduced—we met over a mountain range north of Fallon as we tried our hardest to “kill” each other. We were flying with different squadrons that were in opposition on that day, and the rest of our squadron members had been “killed” already, leaving the two of us to go head to head to score the final kill and win for our squadron. We really tore up the skies, chasing each other so low over the desert floor that we kicked up sandstorms from our combined jet wash. We blazed through canyons and valleys doing high-G turns and storm climbing over mountain ranges to avoid a kill lock-on…or to try to get one. We were both flying Hornets, so the planes were evenly matched, and apparently so were Nick and I. Neither of us could get a kill lock-on on the other, so we continued to chase each other relentlessly until Base Air Control ordered us to return to base before we ran out of fuel and had to push our fighters home. I glanced at my fuel gauges and noted that the readouts were barely above empty. In the heat of battle, I had forgotten the most important rule of flying fighters: when flying with afterburners on, especially in extended combat situations involving high-speed maneuvers, constantly check your fuel gauges.

I was flying on fumes! With great regret, I broke contact, pulled a high-G left bank, and headed back toward base. I switched off my afterburners to lessen my fuel demand, and Nick flew by with his afterburners still lit. I touched down a full forty-five seconds after Nick, so although neither he nor I won, he was the first to land, so it counts…even though it doesn’t.

I opened my canopy and switched off my flight-system computers, fuel pumps, CPU, and onboard batteries while the ground crew pushed the ladder up to my cockpit. I climbed down the ladder and leaned casually against it for a few seconds to acclimatize myself to steady ground after hours of being flung around the skies. I removed my helmet and started heading toward the Base HQ. That was when I saw another figure in a flight suit marching toward me across the hardstand with his helmet tucked under his left arm. He was tall, broad shouldered, tanned, blond, and good-looking—a real chick magnet. He swerved as if to pass by me then spun around and fell into step beside me.

“I really thought you had me in that canyon back there!” he said.

“Well, I did—until you pulled that insane stunt that nearly plowed you into the canyon wall!” I answered.

“Yeah, well, it didn’t, and you couldn’t get a lock-on on me. That’s what counts.”

He smiled and held out his right hand toward me, saying, “My name is Nicholas Watson. Nick to my friends…I’ll let you know if you qualify.”

I took his hand and shook it as I recognized his Australian accent.

“My name is Andrew Hunt. Drew to my friends…I’ll let you know if you qualify. What part of Oz do you come from?”

“Cattle station in outback Queensland,” he answered. “What about you?”

“Sheep farm in Tasmania.”

“Yeah, you Tasmanian Devils certainly like your sheep down there. Need something to keep you warm, I suppose. All that wool!”

“Nicely couched insinuation that we sleep with sheep, I have to say!”

“Deftly sidestepped, I’d say!”

I laughed and glanced at my watch.

“Yeah very funny, mate. Listen, we’d better double-time it cause we’re late for debrief, and I suspect we’re already in trouble!”

We kept our heads low as we tried to sneak into the debriefing room without being noticed. Colonel Holman Mc Callum, the TAC, or Tactical Air Commander, interrupted his lecture and glanced our way, saying, “How nice of you two to join us; please do take a seat. And remain seated until I tell you otherwise!”

He proceeded to finish his lecture, which was basically a dressing down of the other pilots for the mistakes they had made on today’s exercise.

“Right, I guess that sums it up! Go get dinner, and the last one out, close the door!”

He fixed the two of us with his steely glare, making it very clear that we were still to remain in our seats until he told us otherwise. When the door was closed, he walked around his desk, hitched his butt onto it, and folded his arms. His glare at us never wavered. “Right, you two. Front and center!”

We jumped up, marched down to the front, and stood at attention in front of him, which was very difficult to do in flight suits. He looked up and down at both of us with disdain and then snorted derisively. Then he jumped up and grabbed the remote control for the large television hanging on the wall behind his desk.

“I can cite at least fifteen unnecessarily dangerous and risky stunts you two clowns pulled today!”

He then proceeded to show us video footage of all fifteen. When it had finished, he dropped the remote on his desk as he spun around to face us.

“I’ll not even add flying back to base with empty fuel tanks to your ever-growing list of stuffups!”

Then his glare shifted to Nick, who suddenly looked very uncomfortable.

“Nor will I bother to ask for an explanation as to why one of you still had your afterburners lit. Mainly because I can’t think of any possible logical, intelligent explanation for it. Can you?”

“No, sir!” Nick answered.

“I didn’t think so!”

I was silently chuckling at Nick’s discomfort for being singled out until the TAC shifted his steely gaze to take in both of us again, moving forward and hitching his butt onto his desk again.

“Have a seat!” Then waited for us to do so before continuing.

“You don’t seem to realize that those stunts you pulled today could have cost you your lives. Now the US Navy probably wouldn’t shed a tear at the loss of your two sorry lives, but they’d be rightly pissed off at the loss of the two fighters worth more than thirty-eight million dollars that you would have taken down with you. Now, try to guess whose butt they’d roast because you two would have already roasted yours.”

There was a deafening silence echoing around the room until the TAC leaped to his feet and started pacing back and forth in front of his desk again.

“It’s not a trick question—the first answer that enters your dim, dark minds will do!”
“It would be your butt, sir?” we answered together.

“That’s right—well done. My butt, sir. I am responsible for every pilot on this base, which unfortunately includes you two. I am responsible when they take off and while they’re in the air, and even more so if they don’t return and land afterward. Which makes you two clowns a huge problem for me!”

Nick put his hand up. I shuddered.

“Put your hand down, Major. This isn’t a primary school. What’s your question?”

“Yes, sir. How are we supposed to hone our skills to fight without practicing unpredictable and tricky maneuvers to avoid getting blown out of the sky?”

The TAC stopped pacing and spun to face us, legs apart and hands clasped behind him. “Not under my watch, and not with my planes!”

He seemed to relax a little (but only a little), expelled a huge breath, and backed up, hitching his butt onto his desk again.

“Listen to me. Your job here is to practice the tried and proven maneuvers you have been taught, while honing your flying skills to their ultimate. Remember that you are flying against ‘friendly foes’ here. A kill lock-on won’t kill you, but you’re crazy stunts could. It’s a totally different situation in real combat. When you’ve got an enemy pilot you can’t shake off your tail with the usual maneuvers, then you can pull those crazy stunts you did today to avoid a missile up your tailpipe. In that situation, you don’t have any choice, and if you pull it off and bring your planes back intact, there might be a faint hooray from the US Naval Command in Washington…but I doubt it. Anyway, I’ve wasted enough breath on you two clowns. Go get some dinner and hit your bunks. Briefing is at 0700 hours tomorrow, and then we fly at 0830 hours.”

“You’ll be flying with us tomorrow, sir?” Nick asked.

“That’s right. I’m going up myself to keep an eye on you two clowns. Now get out of here; you are dismissed!”

We jumped to our feet, saluted, left the room, and headed for the officer’s mess. Nick and I were in the briefing room at 0645 hours the following morning, notepads open and pens at the ready to avoid the TAC’s angry attention. The rest of the pilots began filing in at around 0653 hours, and each glanced at us as they took their seats. I could tell they wanted to ask us what happened last night, but they probably didn’t want to be seen talking to us when the TAC marched in, which he did at exactly 0659 hours. His impending appearance was heralded by the tortured squeal of the hinges on the door next to his desk as he flung it open and entered. I had once complained to a fellow pilot at dinner that the janitors never seemed to spray the hinges on that door with lubricating oil. He replied that the janitors had probably been given standing orders by the TAC under threat of dishonorable discharge (or firing squad) not to apply any oil to those hinges. He went on to say that the TAC probably liked the sound. The “bell that tolls warning of impending doom” or “the sound of trumpets tooted by angels heralding the appearance of the great one.” I nearly snapped my neck looking all around me in case the TAC was close enough to hear those incendiary comments.

The briefing that morning was reasonably brief, but there was one significant change. Today we would be going up in groups of four and dogfighting until only one of us was left in the air. The first group to go up was the TAC, Nick, yours truly, and one other poor, soon-to-be miserable pilot.

We took to the air at exactly 0830 hours, the TAC leading and the rest of us flying in formation with him. When we were near the designated range, three of us peeled off and lost ourselves in the canyons and gullies of the mountain ranges, leaving the TAC flying alone. I knew that one way or another he wouldn’t be alone for long. I followed the gullies and canyons with my radar set on hunt, sweeping wide, looking for targets. I locked onto one very quickly ten kilometers ahead of me, calculated an intercept course, lit my tail, and went for it. Unfortunately, I had to storm climb over a mountain that was in the way, which not only left me exposed to the other hunters’ radars but also warned my prey of my approach. He, of course, took evasive action and so it was a merry old dance before I “killed” him. Mindful of my exposure when I had flown over that mountain earlier, I kept low, flying through the canyons, gullies, and sand dunes before again lighting my tail and storm climbing to gain altitude so I could have a look around.

I immediately picked up two fighters in close contact seven kilometers to my left and below me. I went for an intercept, but I was too late. Nick peeled off to return to base and I went for the TAC, but he pulled a hard left after the kill and storm climbed; I tried to cut inside his climb and line him up for my missiles or cannons, but he peeled away, leaving me with no target for my weapons. I dropped my nose and followed him into the canyon he dove into, but he wasn’t there! I shut down my afterburners and pulled the throttles back to 50 percent to reduce my heat signature, hoping to avoid a missile lock-on and throw the TAC off my scent, and also because it was very tight flying in that canyon. I pulled a hard right bank to follow the canyon, and still there was no sign of the TAC! I was looking all around me, above me, and behind me (wishing once again that I could rotate my head 360 degrees like that kid in The Exorcist).

Warning bells started going off in my head as I scanned the skies and checked my radar, but there was no sign of him! Anywhere! The warning bells in my head were suddenly drowned out by the warning bells from my attack warning system, telling me someone was getting a lock-on. Before I could push the throttles to the gate and light my tail for a storm climb, the TAC’s fighter dropped out of nowhere and lined up neatly on my tail. It was then that the warning bells became a constant, shrill, electronic scream. I had been well and truly killed. I turned the attack warning system off to shut it up, shoved the throttles to the gate, lit my tail, blasted out of the canyon, and leveled off to head home. I glanced behind me just in time to see the TAC’s fighter blast out of the canyon and into the skies above to await the next three pilots’ arrival. Those poor sacrificial lambs flew by me into the skies to their doom as I was on final approach to land.

I parked my plane, shut down all systems, climbed down the ladder, and leaned against it for a few seconds before removing my helmet and marching toward the base command building. I saw Nick leaning casually on the ladder against his plane as I approached, and he straightened and fell into step beside me as I walked by.

“Well, that was fun!” He exclaimed, “Less than twenty minutes since we took off from this base, and here we are on it again! Do you think the TAC set us up? I mean, all that talk about our dangerous flying stunts and how we have to fly right, to make it easier for him to take us down?”

“No, I don’t,” I answered. “I saw how easily he took you out, and I certainly saw how easily he took me out. He did it with cold, expert efficiency, using the standard maneuvers. He’s just a bloody good pilot!”

“Yeah, I guess. Can I buy you a coffee?”

“Considering it’s base coffee and therefore free, that’s very generous of you. But yes I could use a cup of lousy coffee.”

He produced a flask of rum from a pocket of his flight suit. “How’s this for the perfect sweetener? This way you don’t taste the lousy coffee.”

“You always carry that in your flight suit, Nick?”

“If I get shot down, it would help me get over the shock. As the Boy Scouts say, ‘Always be prepared!’”

“You’ve never been in a combat situation where that could happen, and I very much doubt that you were ever a Boy Scout. But by all means, buy me a cup of lousy coffee.”

We entered the officer’s mess, poured our coffee, and sat at a table in the corner next to a window overlooking the runways. Nick sweetened my coffee, then his, and we sat there savoring them while we watched the pilots take off to face the TAC, only to touch down again in a very short time. They’d walk into the mess afterward looking very dejected, grab a coffee, glance over at us, and then choose a table as far from us as possible.

“Do you get the impression that we may not be as popular with our fellow pilots as we once were?” Nick asked.

“No, I get the impression that if we’re ever alone in a dark lonely place we will be set upon by a large mob of angry pilots beating us to death with large pieces of spare fighter parts.” I replied.

“They can try—I’m still wearing my firearm.”

“I guess they blame us for the TAC giving them a hard time. Going up with us and blowing us all out of the sky. Guess this place will no longer be an amusement park or a flying circus for us or them.”

I glanced out the window.

“The TAC’s fighter just touched down.”

“He’s obviously run out of pilots to shoot down, or fuel, or both.”

The TAC marched into the mess ten minutes later and, without a glance in any direction, headed straight to the coffee percolator, where he started to fill a mug. He suddenly straightened up, raised his head, and sniffed the air around him. He finished pouring his coffee, did a smart about-face, and marched straight toward our table. We started to jump up to salute when he said,

“Sit down! Mind if I join you two clowns?” He then took the seat next to me before either of us could reply. He reached across the table and put his mug down in front of Nick.

“Could you sweeten my coffee for me, Major?”

I’ve got to give Nick his due; he was probably just as shocked and stunned as I was, but he calmly produced the flask and gave the mug a healthy dose of “sweetener” before returning the bottle to his suit pocket. The TAC reached over and retrieved his mug and took a long sip from it.

“Ah! It’s been quite a while since I’ve tasted the sweet nectar of North Queensland. You should know that it has a very distinctive and pungent aroma that can be identified from a great distance, even if you try to drown it in lousy coffee.”

“Sorry, sir!” we said as one.

“I’ll let it slide this time if you sweeten my coffee some more, Nicholas.” Then he thrust his mug toward Nick again. Nick immediately complied. Then he asked, “How did you come across Queensland rum, sir?”

“I was stationed at an air force base there for a time. It’s all they seem to drink down there. That and beer in a yellow can identified by four letters. The beer wasn’t to my taste, but the rum was.”

I have never been psychic at any time in my life, but I kicked Nick’s leg under the table. I just knew he was going to ask, “Would that have been during World War II, sir?”

The TAC took another sip of his coffee. “Good stuff! So I hope you two learned a few important lessons today—the most important being that I was able to take you two down very quickly using ‘by the book’ maneuvers effectively, not the insane Flying Circus stunts that you two seem to favor.”

“Yes, sir!” we answered as one.

“Good. I suggest you hit the books between lectures this afternoon and bone up on those ‘by the book’ maneuvers. Hit your bunks early, because you’ll need all the beauty sleep you can get for tomorrow. Briefing will be at 0700 hours, and we fly at eight!”

And with that, he rose to his feet.

“Oh, and don’t have too many more coffees,” he said, looking at the pocket of Nick’s flight suit where the flask had gone.

“Thanks for the sweetener!”

He spun around and marched out of the mess, taking his coffee with him. Nick and I watched him leave.

Nick looked at me. “Well, that was a weird encounter. He actually seemed sort of friendly at times, in a Colonel Holman Mc Callum sort of way. What was the idea of kicking me under the table earlier? It hurt. Thank God I was wearing my flight suit.”

I explained the reason to him and he laughed.

“Give me credit for a bit of diplomacy. The last thing I want is the TAC on my tail with live sidewinder missiles!”

So we went to our lectures, hit the books, got our beauty sleep, and were in the briefing room at 0645 hours the following morning. We took to the air at exactly 0800 hours, but today it was slightly different. Nick and I were fast learners, and the lessons we had learned the day before were still very fresh in our minds. It made a huge difference! The TAC still downed us, but he had to work that much harder to do it this time. We were in the air a lot longer, and between us we took down two other pilots before Holly got us.

We were sitting in the mess savoring our coffee when the TAC marched in an hour later. He filled his coffee mug and came over, sat down, and passed his mug to Nick.

“Sweeten that for me, Major.”

Nick pulled out the rum and topped off the TAC’s mug. After taking a mouthful and sighing he said,

“Well, I see you two are starting to learn; there might be some hope for you after all. That was some good flying out there today, you obviously learn fast when you set your minds to it. You might become half decent pilots someday; you never know.”

We discussed the day’s flying, the tactics that were used, and the tactics that weren’t. It was a very lively and interesting discussion, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Holly was a very intelligent, intuitive, and experienced pilot, and we learned a lot from him. Eventually Nick and I had to excuse ourselves because we were late for a lecture. Colonel Mc Callum stood up with us and said,

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that; in fact, I’ll go with you. I’m delivering the lecture.”

At least we didn’t get chewed out for being late for that one!

It pretty much went on like that for the next twelve months, until Holly was transferred out to a different station. We flew just about every day with him, and once or twice toward the end I actually got the TAC in my crosshairs and “killed” him. So did Nick, but the win ratio was always very much in Holly’s favor. We were on the tarmac to say goodbye to him when he approached the transport plane that was to fly him to his new station. He looked a little shocked to see us standing there by the boarding ladder. I took his hand and shook it warmly, thanking him for his patient guidance and all that he had taught me. He then turned to Nick, who reached into his flight suit pocket and, with a flourish many magicians would have envied, produced a silver flask, which he held out to the TAC. Holly glanced down, took it, and looked back up at Nick.

“Don’t tell me you’ve gone on the wagon, Major.”

“No, sir. Mine’s back in my quarters. I figured that since I won’t be around to sweeten your coffee, you’d have to do it yourself. It’s a present to you from Drew and me; it’s brand new and fully loaded, sir. Think of us two clowns whenever you sweeten your coffee.”

Holly looked down at the flask in his hand and then back at both of us, and I could have sworn he was at a loss for words. His eyes were a little misty, and with a slight smile he said, “Well, I thank you, and I’ve got to admit that I’m surprised! You two clowns will survive without me, and I’m damned glad I don’t have to hold your hands anymore. You are both damned good pilots, two of the best I’ve ever flown with. You’ll do well if you remember all I’ve taught you.”

“Yes, sir!” Nick and I said as we snapped to attention and saluted him.

After first transferring the flask to his left hand, Holly returned our salutes, shook Nick’s hand, and picked up his duffle bag. He turned on his heel and marched up the stairs into the Hercules transport plane. We didn’t see him again for a long time after that.

The TAC who replaced Holly wasn’t as hard-nosed or tough as Holly was, so life on base settled down and became a bit more relaxed. Sometimes I actually found myself missing Holly and the rigorous regime he had created, but only sometimes.

 

New Book Coming Soon

WE ARE MARTIAN.

BY

G.F. SHERIDAN.
 
PROLOGUE.

TERRAFORMING: To set in motion a series of events that will ultimately transform an alien atmosphere into something similar to Earth’s in order to facilitate human habitation without the support of space suits or any other protective or supportive equipment.

So the question is, how to terraform a planet like Mars into a life-sustaining environment similar to that on Mother Earth? It’s actually not as difficult as you would expect—although Mars is roughly one-third the size and mass of Earth, it can still create a gravity field strong enough to retain a breathable atmosphere and a reasonable atmospheric pressure. The real problem is creating the atmosphere and air pressure to begin with, along with the buffers to break down the ultraviolet and gamma rays from the sun and space before they reach the surface of Mars…and the humans walking upon it.

Yet another problem is increasing the ambient temperature of the planet’s surface, which is so cold that carbon dioxide is frozen into dry ice on the surface; it is especially cold at the south polar cap, but the entire surface of Mars is so cold as to be uninhabitable. It is interesting to note that Mars’s atmosphere consists of 95 percent carbon dioxide (a notorious greenhouse gas according to Earth’s greenies), and yet Mars is a cold and desolate planet. Still, Mars does contain most of the building blocks for life and a breathable atmosphere. We just had to defrost and therefore release it into the atmosphere. In order to raise the temperature and thicken the atmosphere of Mars, we release shitloads more carbon dioxide from the poles and the surface of Mars by heating and melting the dry ice on the surface and within the regolith (basically the dirt on the underlying surface).

It also helps to throw lots of chlorofluorocarbons (another dirty word in the Greenie Bible) into the atmosphere to help warm the atmosphere as well as buffer it against the aforementioned harmful invading ultraviolet and gamma rays. Basically, we had to pollute the Martian atmosphere to buggery to make Mars habitable for us humans. (Go figure.) Thank God there were no greenies in our crew (but of course there would never be, because a greenie would never venture forth from his or her comfy, taxpayer-funded den to do anything useful or productive), and I thank the Lord for that. Otherwise, the future of mankind would involve the constant wearing of space suits for all time and living in caves forever, as well as paying a fortune in carbon taxes (all for the good of this godforsaken, lifeless planet, of course).

However, even with the godsent lack of greenies to prevent the completion of our mission, we still had many logistical problems to overcome. Thanks to our great and valiant leaders, who decided to blow our home planet to kingdom come, we could not complete the mission using the methods that were originally planned. We would not be receiving the deliveries of equipment from Earth that were planned to facilitate our terraforming of Mars. We would not be receiving the solar mirrors that would reflect and concentrate sunlight onto the polar caps to heat and release the carbon dioxide frozen there into the atmosphere, for example. We would not, in fact, be receiving anything we needed from Mother Earth anymore. This was not, however, as huge a catastrophe as you might at first surmise. Fuel we had in abundance to run the rovers, because the remotes were still processing and storing fuel from the Martian atmosphere. The by-products of that process were water and oxygen, so we had ample and endless supplies of both of those necessities. The fuel processed by the remotes consisted of methane and oxygen, and methane is a chlorofluorocarbon. Thus, as we had plenty to spare, we would vent the storage tanks in the remotes into the Martian atmosphere every few weeks. We knew it would be a very long while before any visible effect would be noticed, but you do what you can with what you’ve got. Also, Albatross still had slightly more than half of her fuel load left in her tanks, and she hardly went anywhere anymore, so we had plenty of hydrogen, a gas not readily available on Mars at this stage and necessary as a chemical feedstock for the processing of the Martian atmosphere into fuel, oxygen, and water. There is also another factor that I like to call the snowball effect. Nobody else likes me calling it that, but I don’t give a rat’s ass—I am the one writing this historical chronicle after all.

Anyway, over time, if you can increase the atmospheric temperature by as few as four degrees centigrade through polluting the atmosphere, then the frozen ice starts to melt and release the carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere all by itself. This helps warm the planet surface, thereby melting and releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increasing the core temperature of the surface…thereby melting more dry ice. I think you know where I’m going with this, boys and girls, but only time will tell if we are right. It is unlikely that we, the original crew, will ever be able to dance and prance about the Martian landscape without space suits, but it is entirely possible that our children will. Although only God knows why the hell they would feel the need or desire to dance and prance about the landscape in the first place!

QUOTE:
“Lets just deal with what’s happening now and worry about the future later”
Nick Watson. AD 2017.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE.

 

I cannot believe that it has been five years since I last made an entry in this Historical Chronicle. My only excuse is that so much has been happening in that time that I have not had a chance to sit and write it all down until now. Truth be told, it has been a very hectic, busy, and exhausting yet very productive five years. There have been hardships and challenges along the way, and there have been a few earth-shattering (pardon the pun) surprises, all of which have given us very interesting lives and also increased our confidence in our chances of survival on this planet and in this universe by a significant margin. I hardly know where to begin, but I figure that if I try to continue from where I left off, that might be a good place to start.

So here we go!

As previously mentioned, the addition of the six crew members we had rescued from the International Space Station to join our happy little crew was making a huge difference to the progress of our “strive to survive” campaign. Surely—but not slowly—the plots in the terrarium on the top level of this fair city inside a mountain were being filled with healthy plants, growing faster and more vigorously every week. The plantations had gotten to the stage where we had to organize harvesting crews to pick the fruits, nuts, and so forth off the trees once and sometimes even twice a month.

Eventually the terrarium was full of fruit trees, nut trees, banana trees, coconut trees, pear trees (complete with partridges at Christmas hopefully…and quite possibly) as well as just about any other tree or shrub you can think of. We also had a huge amount of stuff growing underground—beetroot, parsnips, onions, carrots, and of course, that age-old staple that nobody, especially Irishmen and Russians (for totally different reasons), could live without, potatoes. And I’m sure you won’t be too surprised to learn that we also have quite a large crop of sugar cane growing up there.

After the annihilation of life on our home planet as we were blazing through space toward Mars, we were left alone in space with no other choice but to proceed to Mars and try to complete our mission, only now the goal had become our own survival and we would have no hope of any support, succor, or supply from our home planet. If not for the discovery of this abandoned, self-contained, underground city shortly after landing on Mars, we would not have reached this stage of colonization or advancement. We would otherwise have been living like primitive Neanderthals, albeit in airtight biodomes instead of caves and in space suits instead of loincloths.

Who built this city and for what purpose we neither knew nor cared (except Dick, of course, who started babbling on about it being a pioneering outpost, built as a base to explore this end of the universe and colonize the Earth). All the rest of us cared about was the fact that once we got the life-support and all other systems of the city online and running, we could live and build and grow stuff much more easily and quickly than our original mission parameters would have allowed.

Thanks to all of this, it literally became a jungle up there in the terrarium, but a well-planned and controlled jungle, we hoped. We were so proud of our success that we started to wonder what else we could do to show off and fill the pages of this chronicle with our impressive ingenuities. And so it was that one night a few weeks after I stopped writing in this chronicle, Mel asked me over a romantic candle-lit dinner if we had any biodomes left over that we could deploy somewhere else on the planet. I blew out the romantic candle and glanced across the table at Nick while he thought about it.

“Let’s see…we’ve got two deployed out on the plain adjacent to the city, but I’m pretty sure we’ve got another two of them in storage,” he said as he lowered his eyes from heaven and looked at me.

“Yeah, sounds about right,” I added.

“Good, I’ve got an idea!” Mel said.

Nick and I were still staring at each other, for we both knew that one way or another, this would not be good news for him or me.

She went on to explain to everyone in the cafeteria, which was the whole crew who basically just wanted to eat their dinner, her grand idea. We would venture forth with said biodomes in tow and set them up. (She had never built one, so she had no idea what it was like to build a flat-packed biodome). She then went on to explain the basics of terraforming a virgin planet into a beautiful new world where you could prance and dance about in a life-sustaining and breathable environment without space suits. We, of course, already knew all this, as we had read the same manuals, but we let her continue as it seemed important to her. I did, however, make a mental note that when it did become possible to prance and dance about the planet without a space suit (or even with one for that matter), it would be immediately outlawed on the grounds that it was totally unnecessary and would look absolutely ridiculous.

The manuals she was quoting from that we had read and studied so many times over the past eight years stated a number of basic scientific facts to know if we wanted to rebuild a planet such as Mars. All of those facts thumbed their noses at the Greenie Bible (or dogma).

Basically, Mel believed that venting gases only from our location would not be effective enough in the long term, so we should build biodomes on the other side of Mars to start “polluting” that side as well. As I listened to her, I had to agree with her reasoning, but I was also considering the logistics of what she was proposing and how to overcome the problems that I expected to arise, so when she had finished speaking, I almost applauded. As I was about to bring my hands together, I glanced across the table at Nick, saw the disdainful glare on his face, and lowered my hands quietly to rest on the table instead.

After Nick and I had finished our dinners, we grabbed our glasses of red wine, made our excuses, and took ourselves up to the control tower on level six, where the maps and photos of the Martian surface were stored. We pored over them, looking for a likely site to position the biodomes and argued over the pros and cons of each site that was suggested. Eventually, I dropped my extended right index finger onto a crater on the map we were studying and said,

“What about the crater where the alien shipwreck is?”

Nick pushed my finger aside and studied the crater that had been revealed on the map.  

“Yeah, it’s as good a place as any, I suppose,” Nick said, and we began plotting where each of the biodomes could be placed.

“It’s going to be a pain in the ass carting water and oxygen over there every week to feed and water the plants, though,” Nick complained.

“Maybe not,” I said as I grabbed a large piece of paper, a large pencil, and a large ruler and started to draw up a large blueprint. When I was satisfied with my efforts, I slid the paper across the desk to Nick, who looked down at it and then up at me.

“Very impressive, but what the hell is it?”

“It’s a schematic of the grid of water pipelines and oxygen feed lines that we will be laying to service the biodomes.”

“OK, what is this big circular thing that all the lines and pipes are coming out of?”

“A remote we will fly over there and leave parked in the crater to process the Martian atmosphere as well as feed and water the plants in the biodomes automatically. That way we only have to fly over there once a month or so to check on progress and vent the storage tanks into the atmosphere.”

“You will be flying one of the remotes over there. I am never going to fly one of those pigs ever again. I’ll pick you up in T-2 for the return journey.”

“Aye, aye, Captain—you big wuss!”

“That’s ‘You big wuss, sir!’”

We had selected a crater almost exactly on the opposite side of the planet from the city, deep enough that the biodomes were protected from the worst of the Martian winds but not too deep to shade them from the sun. After studying the photos and maps of the area, we decided to fly one of the remote ships over there tomorrow with T-2, park the remote in the crater, and check out the crater firsthand, until I asked,

“Aren’t the biodomes still on the Albatross?”

“Oh yeah, they are,” Nick replied after much thought.

“Then maybe it would be a better idea for you to fly the Albatross out to the crater tomorrow instead of T-2. Surely it would be easier and quicker to unload them straight from the Albatross, don’t you think?”

“OK, smartass!”

We then returned to the cafeteria and informed the rest of the crew what we were going to be doing in the morning. Grizzly, Mel, and Sammy volunteered to come with us and work out what would be needed to complete the task. We would then return to the city in the afternoon and load up T-2 with the necessary equipment the following day, before flying T-2 back to the crater to live in until we had finished setting up over there.

So it was that I found myself sitting parked outside Nick’s place at 0600 hours the following morning waiting (not so) patiently while Nick and Sammy loaded themselves and a number of cases into my buggy.

“You do realize that we are only going to be over at the crater for the day, so you only have to take a packed lunch with you.”

“We are, plus a few instruments for testing soil samples and such,” Sammy replied.

I left it at that and shut up. If it had just been Nick, I would have found it entertaining to argue with him for an hour or so, but I avoided arguing with women whenever I possibly could on the principle that a guy can never win, even though he so often should. When they were finally loaded, I drove up to the hangar deck and then waited (somewhat) patiently while they unloaded their packed lunch and instruments into the Albatross. I then kissed Mel goodbye and put my helmet on, sealed it, and cracked the oxygen bottle open to fill my space suit.

Mel would be flying with Nick, Sammy, and Grizzly to the crater aboard the Albatross while I drove across the plain and into a remote to fly there alone. I drove over to the hangar doors and parked in front of them, and then I twisted around in my seat to watch the Albatross fire up her engines. The pilot inside me still got a thrill every time I watched her come to life with fire belching from all of her thrusters. While they were warming up at idle burn, Dick activated the airlock system, and when the hangar doors slid open I drove out and headed toward the remote I had selected to fly over to the crater. I stopped and watched Albatross accelerating rapidly as she flew over me, blasting toward the crater on the other side of Mars. Only after her tail fire had dwindled into the distance did I drive to my selected remote to follow her.

After driving the buggy into the cargo hold, I parked and battened it down, and then I activated the controls to recall the motorized carriage carrying the nuclear processing reactor back into the remote. After closing and sealing the hull, I walked through the ship to the cockpit. It was like walking through a ghost ship, totally devoid of any sign of present or previous human occupation. The only thing missing to complete the picture of a ghost ship were cobwebs, which of course couldn’t exist in an oxygen-deficient environment. Even spiders can’t survive for very long in a vacuum, and as the remotes had never been manned, the life-support systems had never been switched on.

I dropped into the pilot’s seat and started punching the series of buttons and flicking the switches to activate the flight-control systems and monitors of the ship. When they had fired up and were giving me good readings of the ship’s flight status, I pushed the throttles to the max and hit the fuel feed pumps to blow any built-up Martian dust out of the thrusters and facilitate startup. Knowing that I had flooded the thrusters with fuel, I waited a few minutes before I hit the ignition buttons so the thrusters would fire up instead of blow up, and I was rewarded for my patience with the sound of all burners firing up. I immediately pulled the throttles back to idle power to let them warm up before they had to fly while I completed the rest of the preflight checks.

Then, for the first time in over two years, the remote ship lifted off the surface of Mars and hovered above it in a cloud of red Martian dust. I moved the throttle levers and sent the ship rocketing across the surface of Mars toward the crater. I set a safe and economical speed to my destination but still found myself setting up for landing within seventy minutes of liftoff. I backed off the throttles and used the bow retro rockets to slow the ship so that it was moving relatively slowly forward as it approached the crater. I spotted the Albatross parked in the crater and touched down as close as I safely could to it.

I hadn’t bothered to switch on the life-support systems of the ship for such a short trip, so I was still fully suited and didn’t have to mess around with pressure-equalizing airlocks. Consequently, I was in my buggy and on the surface of Mars less than five minutes after touchdown, heading toward the three suited figures standing in various poses of activity not too far away from the Albatross.

I easily spotted the towering shape of Grizzly gazing about the crater landscape as he meandered hither and thither. As I pulled the buggy up alongside him, he stopped his meandering and raised his hands to rest on his hips while he stared across the crater to where I had parked the remote. He glanced around at me as I climbed out of my buggy.

“Well done; you’ve managed to park that remote exactly where I think is the best position to build the biodomes. That sheer crater wall starboard of the remote would give plenty of protection for the domes from the Martian winds, most of which would come in from that direction, and the domes will still get the most and the best of the sun each day.”

“OK, then. You, Nick, and I can start unloading the domes out of the ship and dumping them over near the remote with the tractor crane for future erection. Where is Nick, by the way?”

“I don’t know; he came out with the rest of us, looked around, and disappeared back into the ship half an hour ago. I haven’t seen him since.”

“Well, let’s go find him then, shall we?”

As I drove the buggy up the ramp into Albatross’s cargo hold, I saw a large number of pallets loaded with equipment sitting in the middle of the cargo floor and the tractor crane heading toward me towing three pallets on its flatbed trailer. I swerved out of the way as Nick drove past me with a wave of his hand and disappeared down the cargo ramp onto the Martian surface. I turned and followed him over to the remote, where he parked in front of the ship’s bow. I jumped out of the buggy and climbed into the crane operator’s seat, and then I unloaded the pallets while Grizzly hooked up the loading chains. Once the pallets were resting safely on the Martian surface, he unhooked them. Nick, who had never left the driver’s seat, immediately started driving back to the Albatross so Grizzly and I could load up more pallets. With the three of us working together as a team like this, everything we needed to build the biodomes, lay the pipes and pumps, and so on was sitting on the Martian surface within three hours of Albatross touching down in the crater. Then we were ready to fly home.

After Nick had parked the tractor in the cargo hold of the remote, we closed and sealed the remote’s cargo door against the ubiquitous Martian dust and drove the buggy back to the Albatross and up the ramp into the cargo hold. I closed and sealed the cargo door as Nick went to the flight deck and fired up the engines for the return flight to the city. I punched the intercom button as I walked to a launch chair and, in my best British accent (which truthfully was not at all good), declared,

“Home, Watson, and don’t spare the horses!”

I only just managed to seat myself and strap in to avoid being flung backward and smeared against the rear bulkhead from the explosive acceleration of the ship. When we reached the cruising speed Nick had set up, I thought about unstrapping myself and bounding up to the cockpit. I then thought twice about it, because I would possibly be smeared against a forward bulkhead, as we would soon be rapidly decelerating so as to fly gently into the city instead of crashing into it. And just as well I did, because just as I finished that thought, I was thrown forward hard against the seatbelt straps as the rapid deceleration began.

After Nick had flown Albatross into the city and settled her gently to the deck, I heard the thunder of her engines wane into silence and unstrapped myself from my chair. I stood over by the cargo bay doors waiting for the all clear to open them. Together, the crew walked down the ramp and separated at the bottom, the girls headed toward the control tower and the labs contained within to study their newly collected samples from the crater. Meanwhile, we guys headed toward the Terminal Café to have some coffee. Once we were comfortably seated at a table with coffee fumes laden with a bit of Northern Queensland sweetener rising from our mugs and filling our nostrils, we started discussing what we thought had to be done and how the hell we would do it. Our discussion was interrupted an hour later when Dick, Courtney, and Boris walked in, grabbed coffees, and sat down at our table wanting to know how it went and what we’d found while we were out there.

“We found the crater we were looking for and dumped the necessary gear in it to build the domes, Dick. With a bit of luck, we’ll be able to find that crater again and be able to put together the stuff we dumped there, at which point all will be right with the world, or at least this world. What did you expect us to find there?”

“Oh, nothing; I was just wondering if you found anything out of the ordinary out there.”

Nick and I looked across the table at each other and then as one we turned to stare at Dick and asked,

“Why?”

“No reason. I’ve only ever been over to that side of the planet once. I just wondered what it looked like.”

“It looks pretty much like this side, Dick—a few more craters, maybe, but pretty much like this side. Also, the crater we’re talking about is the one where the shipwreck lies, so you have been there!” Nick answered. Then he glanced over at me with one of his eyebrows cocked.

I shrugged my shoulders and took a sip of my coffee as if to say, Dick’s just being Dick!

Nick frowned at me as if to say, Well he should bloody well knock it off!

I laughed, causing Dick, Boris, Courtney, and even Grizzly to look at me strangely. Nick and I had flown, traveled, and walked side by side for so many years in each other’s company that we could sometimes read each other’s minds and communicate silently with a look, a gesture, or a subtly extended finger without anyone else being aware of it. But sometimes, like now, it could be embarrassing, so I took another sip of my coffee and started talking about the task ahead of us once more. We had pretty much worked it all out between us when the rest of the crew joined us, so next we had to outline our plan to them. When we had finished, Dick chimed in,

“I think Courtney and I should fly over there with you guys and give you a hand setting it all up.”

Nick and I looked across the table at each other, and then as one we turned to look at Dick and asked,

“Why?”

“We can help you wire up the electrical systems to run all the automatic systems and pumps to feed the biodomes with water and oxygen, and anything else that is needed.”

“Yeah, but we could be over there for a month or more until it’s all up and running.”

“True, but it might get finished a lot sooner with us to help you,” Dick pointed out.

I glanced over at Nick and saw the same look of sullen resignation in his eyes that I was sure he saw reflected in mine.

We spent the next day packing provisions and loading them as well as the equipment we had decided we needed to take with us onto T-2. When we had finished, we gathered together with the rest of the crew in the terrarium for our last meal together for several weeks—it was a fitting farewell that was enjoyed by all.

The next morning at 0600 hours we gathered together with the rest of the crew in the terminal once more to say farewell. Nick, Dick, Courtney, Mel, Sammy, Grizzly, and I would be flying to the crater on the other side of the world on board T-2. Eventually, we said farewell to those who were remaining behind in the city and walked across the hangar deck. Then we climbed aboard T-2 and waved to them from the flight deck as we floated past the terminal windows on our way out the door before we went ballistic once we were clear of the city and the ship’s bow was pointed toward the crater on the other side of the world.