Stewart felt weak; he tried to
move, he couldn’t. He flexed his arm but nothing happened. Panic flooded
him; he was paralyzed his fear only ebbed as his hazy brain remembered.
After all the Thiopental pumped into his body it would take time to respond.
had never been in an induced coma before and made up his mind he wasn’t
ever going to be again; he ignored that he would have to for the return
journey. Six weeks he had been unconscious; it wasn’t like you were
sleeping. Sleep was nice; sleeping was something you enjoyed, even if there
was the occasional nightmare, but he hadn’t dreamed: there was just
an endless blackness.
matter how unpleasant there was no alternative. Six weeks was a long, long
time stuck in a cramped spacecraft, especially with six other almost strangers.
An image of BettyLou appeared in his mind; why couldn’t he have spent
six long dark nights dreaming about her, why? He knew why, she was the mission’s
co-pilot. How professional was that, fantasizing about your co-worker?
forced his thoughts to the others in the team and immediately to an image
of the other female Helen. Hell what was wrong with him, a few weeks without
sex and all he could think of was women? He forced a picture of Hogan into
his vision; now there was the opposite of gods gift to women. It was unkind
way to picture the man; Hogan couldn’t help how he looked and he did
have a quite a nice personality. Stewart wondered if Hogan’s parents
had known from the start and given him a tough man’s name to harden
him up. Hell what was going on in his mind? Either he was thinking sex or
being mean. Tony’s face was there. What did people say about Tony,
he was the space adventurer; Mr. America in all his versions; obviously
without the shield, and superpowers.
arm could move now and Stewart tried to lift off the cot but his body still
wouldn’t move, a trace of concern was dispelled when he remembered
he was strapped in: the Vern was too small to create its own gravity. A
picture now entered his mind of them all floating around the cabin: unconscious,
bumping into each other and the walls. He’d had enough of faces, so
he forced his eyes open.
wasn’t the most welcoming of sights, banks of switches: barely lit
by the emergency lighting, and flickering screens of data. Waking up inside
of the tin can it seemed a hundred times smaller than he remembered, and
it was tiny then. Maybe: no definitely, an induced coma had been better
than six weeks of claustrophobia.
His body was beginning to answer
his demands now and he made his hand crawl over his chest to the harness
release catch. He pressed but his fingers were too weak to open it. Again
panic swept in: and out. He hoped Clive had followed the instructions. ‘Enough
but not too much’ the medical supervisor had warned them all.
‘An overdose of Barbiturates can, and will be fatal’. Well
he was alive, but what about the others?
there was a mental return to work, he was commander and the crew was his
responsibility, he tried the release catch again and it almost opened. Yes
he was responsible but only until they arrived at their destination, then
the science crew called the shots. ‘Wow’
he silently murmured, they were the ones who would be the first to set foot
on the Ghost Planet.
newspapers; they had a lot to answer for. 2027
QR356/34 isn’t an practical name for a planet, or one that
stays on the tip of your tongue, so of course the newspapers: as newspapers
do, gave it a much catchier name; the Ghost Planet. Not that they knew there
were ghosts: even the tabloids wouldn’t stretch their imaginations
that far, but because it appeared from nowhere.
astronomers had ridiculed that immediately saying that it didn’t just
appear, it would have come from somewhere like the ort cloud: the sphere
of icy planetoids and comets outside the Solar System stretching half way
to the nearest star. They said it probably had an elliptical orbit that
took it way, way out beyond Pluto.
newspapers responded saying if that was so then why had it never been seen
before. Because last time had probably been before telescopes had been invented
countered the scientists. They went on to say it probably wasn’t even
a planet, but probably a dwarf planet just a few thousands of killometres
in diameter, probably big enough to keep its own tenuous atmosphere.
that had the reverse effect of shutting down the tabloids and the riskier
speculated that with an atmosphere it could have life on the surface. That
didn’t last long; that was a step too far for even the outlandish
of editors. Whoever you believed, and however you thought about it, there
were an awful lot of probables.
last the catch worked. Stewart slowly unclipped the straps and laboriously
pulled himself into a sitting position.
Betty Lou was in his mind again, she was in the cot directly in front, sitting
up. She looked as if she had, had a really rough night. He smiled at the
thought, normally she always kept her appearance neat; but she looked cute,
disheveled and all.
a little one of the science bod’s was up too. He tried to put a name
to the face but his mind was blank. He didn’t have the strength to
twist around and see if any of the others were awake.
A disembodied voice broke into his
semi conscious state. “Good morning everybody.”
‘Was it morning?’ He thought, did the phrase mean anything
where they were?
lighting intensified a notch or two
“Morning back to you control.” BettyLou said in a loud’ish voice.
“Wakey, Wakey everybody… It’s another glorious pitch
black day in the darkest depths of space.”
wondered how she could be so cheerful when he felt stunned.
can’t stand happy people first thing in the morning. Go back to sleep.”
recognized Hogan; that made four awake he turned his body slowly. The geologist:
Stewart still couldn’t remember his name. Suddenly it came to him:
Tony, of course it was, Mr. America: how could he forget, was stirring.
Helen the anthropologist seemed to be awake too, but Ford and Clive: the
doctor, appeared to be still asleep. As if to prove him wrong Fords hand
Now there was a man who got what he wanted, and what he wanted was to be
the first man to stand on another planet. And he would be too. It was there
in the flight instruction in big bold letters. ‘Mr. Ford will be the
first to step down onto the planet’. Who the hell did he think he
was, Neil Armstrong the second? Well actually he almost was: he had been
the fifth man to go to Mars: once the Vern’s predecessor craft had
got the first crew safely there and back. This time he would actually be
the first. Stewart wondered if he had something planned to say ‘First
step for mankind…’ Pillock, Stewart thought. Just because he
was one of the world’s richest men: and owned the spacecraft they
were in, and the rocket that had blasted them off from Earth, and all the
equipment they would use? All that didn’t give him the right to be
the first; still maybe it did, money always talks, and credit where it was
due, Ford didn’t hesitate to throw all of his space business’s
into the effort when the Ghost planet was discovered, and that was even
before the planet became really interesting. Interesting? There’s
an understatement if there was one.
had been around the time the Ghost planet was passing Saturn, when Earth’s
telescopes began to make sense of the pixilated images they were getting.
A bright reflection had been observed from the first and as expected the
glow indicated a surface covered in ice. Other data indicated: as it got
closer to the sun, that the ice was beginning to melt, but what happened
after Jupiter really drew everybody’s attention.
melting ice was forming oceans, and the atmosphere was thickening. The bigger
telescopes could make out where the melt water was running in rivers: rivers
that ran in straight intersecting lines. The observers were stunned. Rivers
didn’t run in lines, they meandered, that was what water did. The
scientist surmised that there were fractures in the ice that the water was
running run up against and along. They still held to this even when it was
clear that it wasn’t the odd random one, almost all of the waterways
criss-crossed in a very unnatural way.
every man and his dog was trying to work that out, data came in showing
the atmosphere was almost life sustaining, maybe the equivalent of being
on top of Mount Everest, but a human could: just, feasibly survive.
too late the world’s governments became interested, and the worlds
space agencies put other projects on hold; even the miserly U.S. Congress
suddenly decided against their previous stance of no extra allocation of
funds and suddenly found a whole pile. The Chinese, the European, Russia,
Japan, India; everybody suddenly found money to build and prepare something
to investigate, but they were all late starters, Ford had already got a
mission sitting on the launch pad.
Ford had made his immense fortune on the back of tech boom; from that he
had branched out into almost everything: as long as it made, or would make
money, and one of his companies proposed mining asteroids. The Ghost Planet
was an ideal chance to test what he planed and if he played his business
acumen in the right way he could get the collective world governments to
pretty much pay for the mission Stewart and the others were already on.
Ford had rushed his teams and by the time the Ghost Planet had come inside
the orbit of Mars it was a done deal.
everything had changed, no not changed that was such an insignificant word,
but there wasn’t one that could describe the magnitude of what was
next seen through the watching telescopes. The world was stunned as the
towers and buildings of a city emerged from the liquefying ice.
was gaining strength; once: if anybody had asked him, he would have said
spending weeks in bed would be real luxury; he was realizing it wasn’t.
His muscles felt limp, each breath was taken with effort and he was sure
he could feel: he definitely could hear, the blood rushing around his body,
sending his heart into overdrive. Why hadn’t the doctors warned him;
he remembered they had, but the knowledge and the experience were two different
He pushed the electric blanket off;
swiveled on his buttocks and swung his legs over the side of the cot. He
felt like he wanted to throw up, but he didn’t think his legs would
carry him far enough to reach the tiny cupboard that was their toilet. With
effort he held it back. Too late it came to him he had no weight and the
swing of his legs carried through his hips and pulled him against the waist
strap. “Wowa.” He called out.
was laughing at him.
“Forgetting where I am?” He said, slightly embarrassed.
“Where you are is making history.”
Tony was slowly floating
towards one of the handrails that ran around the cabin. He looked as if
he was ready to go on a twenty K run; damn him for being so with it. Everybody
was up now: except for Clive.
Without the warmth of the blanket
Stewart began to feel cold. “Has anybody turned on the cabin heater?”
“Yes commander. Cryogenics are off.” Answered BettyLou, in a sharp efficient
still feels cold enough that we could be down on the surface already.”
“Somebody; everybody?” Helen’s anxious voice interrupted,
drawing their attention. She was beside Clive’s cot. They all looked
at her. “I can’t get him to respond?” she said
and BettyLou pushed themselves across the cabin to her side.
“His blankets cold?” said Helen as she looked up and around the
faces. “It hasn’t been switched on?”
Stewart felt a chill run through
his body, and it was nothing to do with the cold. “It’s not
on? Didn’t anyone check?”
Hogan looked at him. “Don’t
you remember; he set up the infusions; he was last to go under, he was to
do it himself.”
BettyLou was checking Clive's pulse.
“I can’t feel anything… I think… he’s dead,”
her voice was full of shock and disbelief.
“What, dead; who’s dead?” Ford was pulling himself from his cot and
disconnecting the intravenous feed. “Somebody’s dead; how,
uttered, still in disbelief too. “His thermal blanket wasn’t
on; it looks like his core temperature went too far down and he froze to…?”
“Blanket, is it working?” Fords voice sounded more like he was considering
implications rather than outcome.
Hogan reached for the switch and
flicked it. Immediately a tiny pilot light glowed. “I think it
is; it looks like it wasn’t switched on?”
Ford seemed slightly relieved. “Why
wouldn’t the foo… why would he forget to switch it on?”
“Maybe he didn’t forget?” They looked at Helen. She held two vials
of Thiopental. “Did these all have the same amount in them?”
She looked questioningly around the faces. “Because this one seems
to have more missing?”
Ford was first. “Your saying
“No, I’m saying there’s
less in this one than the other.”
the doctor, why would he make a mistake like that?”
Hogan looked at Ford. “More
to the point he’s our doctor; what happens now if any of us get sick?”
Ford was unsympathetic. “Then
we don’t get sick.”
“What are we going to do?” Said Helen her emotion getting the better
“Do?” Ford said firmly. “We
I mean with… Clive?”
all looked at Stewart. Being commander wasn’t all glory and adventure:
it could also be shit, he thought; but what were they supposed to do? There
had been a meeting, ‘Dealing with unforeseen circumstances’
the clip of papers had been headed. In amoungst the loose pages was ‘crew
fatality’. Hell what a thing to remind somebody about when they were
setting of on an almost suicidal mission? He had rushed through it, and
all he could remember were the bits about getting going again. What were
they going to do? Betty Lou saved him.
She looked at Ford disapprovingly.
“Staying healthy or not, the first thing we have to do is tell
back home what has happened, we can decide what to do with his body later.
Stuttered Hogan, “We can’t take him back with us?
We’d have to spend six weeks locked in here with a corpse?”
“What’s the difference?”
Muttered Tony, “We
Ford spoke again. “What’s
happened has happened, nothing changes now that he’s not part of the
expedition anymore, but if I need to remind you all; we are. There’s
going to be time for grief and mourning later on; right now we need to cover
him up and get back to work.”
The others looked at him; nobody
said anything but BettyLou pulled up the blanket to cover the dead mans
face. “Okay, the mission goes on, but shouldn’t somebody
say something out of respect before it does?”
Ford looked at Stewart. “I
think that’s the responsibility of the missions commander?”
Stewart barely knew the man; he looked pleadingly at the others. “I
didn’t know him, What about one of…” Nobody seemed
willing, and he searched his mind for what he knew of his life. “Clive…?”
said BettyLou softly.
all volunteered for this mission for the same… I think we all grabbed
the opportunity, and… The truth is I never got to know Clive, I regret
that now. I guess people always say that at every funeral. We never know
the people around us, and only realize that we don’t when it is too
late to find out… I don’t know much about his dreams and aspirations,
but I think I speak for him when I say he wanted to be part of something
extraordinary. I don’t know what my obituary will be, but Clive rose
above the mundane and did do something above and beyond what most of us
can ever hope to do?”
Ford began a slow clap. “Well
done, now let us all do something extraordinary and give him the legacy
he would be proud of?”
nodded as she went to switch on the link back to mission control.
best if we wait a bit longer?”
She turned to Ford. “Excuse
can inform them later… when the time is right?”
“The time is right?” she said in an irritated way. “One
of our team has… passed away; there are people need to know now?”
they, will it change the mission: no, the mission has a purpose that will
not be served by creating a cloud of doom over it. We all came knowing there
were certain… risks. Parker knew them possibly even more than any
of us, he would not want his epitaph cut before it can be written.”
BettyLou was taken aback. “Your
saying we keep it secret?”
course no, obviously he won’t get off when we get back, but think
about it, do any of you want to be part of a history making event and then
have someone say ‘wasn’t that that the one where somebody forgot
to switch on his blanket and died before they got there?’”
mouth hung open in incredulity.
his epitaph be ‘he died while exploring new worlds?’”
Stewart wasn’t sure what he
felt. “Okay his body will, but he’s going nowhere.”
yes, but who is to know?”
for a start?”
“And you are happy that in all the
history books, and taught in all the schools will be the story of the intrepid
astronauts who will be remembered for what one of us forgot to do, rather
than for what we all did?” Ford
smiled he could see it on their faces that, that wasn’t what they
wanted. “We can give him a legacy that will make his family proud,
Betty Lou wasn’t convinced.
“And how do you propose that?”
can say that he got lost exploring somewhere; or wandered bravely away like
captain Oats in the Antarctic. We can give him a real hero’s death?”
rest of the crew looked at Ford wondering if they had actually heard what
they thought they had heard.
don’t have to make any decision now, He’s dead and nothing will
change that, but think about what I said. Think about what you want your
children to remember; think about how you want to be remembered.”
Hogan was first to speak. “He’s
right, we’re here to do a job; to explore. We need to focus on the
Ghost planet was growing larger every time they gazed down on it, but they
could see nothing through the thick clouds that now shrouded it. It was
disappointing both to them and the observers back on Earth. All anyone had
seen was a tantalizing glimpse of the emerging buildings before an impenetrable
haze began to cover the planet. A single satellite saw a little longer,
and that had been even more exciting. As darkness fell on the Ghost planet
it had seen what could have been pale; greenish, lights; but not electric
light, the spectrum was wrong. Maybe an entirely new form of light, or maybe
it was as old as oil lamps. There wasn’t enough information.
“That’s where will we be landing?” Tony looked past Stewart as he studied the
images taken before the clouds blotted out the view.
“That is, where will be landing.” Said Ford firmly. “We will land
just inside the walls.”
“If they are in fact walls?”
looked at him disapprovingly.
Stewart smiled. “If we are
going to do this objectively it’s best to have a little skepticism.”
little is no problem.”
a shame about the clouds?”
Ford shook his head. “No,
the clouds are our friend.”
looked at Ford puzzled. “Haven’t we just been talking about
them have taking our view away?”
everybody else’s view; in a couple of hours we will penetrate it and
be the only ones to see what is to see?”
wouldn’t also be because your broadcasting networks will be getting
the feed from us first?”
Ford Looked at Betty Lou and smiled.
“Oh yes; that too.”
“Whoever they were they were obviously
a maritime nations?”
observed Hogan into the following silence.
“I still can’t get used to this.”
Said Helen. “Alien
civilizations, it’s the stuff of fiction, if there are aliens why
haven’t we known before?”
Because they probably had trouble
signaling from under a couple of K of ice?” muttered
Tony, he took on a statue like posture to emphasise his point.
Helen punched him. “Act
sensibly.” She said without humour.
Vern entered the upper atmosphere, there was still no external view as the
parachutes opened and slowed them down.
what seemed an endless time a red tinged mist was all they could see. Then
at long last it thinned and was gone. The craned their necks trying to see
what they could through the small viewing windows eager to see, and what
they did see astounded them. The sight enchanted them.
light wasn’t particularly good: about the same as a heavily overcast
day back home. They couldn’t see the city: at least not as clearly
as their imaginations had pictured it, but it wasn’t a crushing disappointment;
instead everything was covered in a blanket of dark, dark, red.
“Are we seeing what I think we’re
seeing?” said Betty
Lou in an awe filled voice.
“If your seeing a planet covered in
vegetation then your seeing what the sensors is confirming.” answered Hogan glancing at the data readouts
and straining around to see out of the nearest window.
“We are recording all this.” Added Ford anxiously.
Betty Lou had to make sure herself.
“We had better be because nobody is going to believe we have found
“Damn it all of you, I can’t
see a thing from over here?” grumbled
“It’s like looking down on the
Said Betty Lou. “Only an Amazon that covers the whole planet; well
except for where there are still ice fields?”
“And assuming the Amazon was Crimson
instead of Green?”
Stewart pointed out.
Tony couldn’t believe that.
“What it’s red, all of it?”
“Somebody kick me.” Hogan said almost laughing. “I
must still be asleep and dreaming?”
Stewart felt like: well he wasn’t
sure what he felt like, other than it was as if he was being plumped straight
into one of his childhood dreams. “This is going to change everything
we’ve ever known or believed.”
Without seeing the sight Tony didn’t
seem quite so mesmerized. “What you mean is that it’s going
to open a massive can of worms?”
Betty Lou glanced quickly back at
him. “The state the world is in maybe that’s exactly what
“Guy’s, discussions later.”
Stewart broke in uneasily.
“We are descending fourteen K too fast. Make sure your buckled up
it could be a hard landing? Firing retros.”
euphoria vanished as they all lay back on their couches and prepared for
the jolt. The roar of the jets shook the padding beneath them.
“Fifty seconds,” called Betty Lou over the sound.
it was quiet
“We’re still too fast,”
said Stewart anxiously.
there was a roar, but a second later the retros shut down.
“Don’t stop?” Demanded Ford. “We can’t damage
the ship or we may never get it off again.”
“She didn’t stop it.”
Snapped Stewart. “That’s
all the fuel in the retros gone.”
“Thirty seconds.” Betty Lou’s voice was raised a pitch
or two higher. “Twenty seconds.”
felt himself gripping the armrests harder than he intended.
Betty Lou spoke there was a loud bang followed immediately by a sound like
a few million fingers scraping over a blackboard. Then the view from one
side of the capsule went black: or a dark Grey kind of black.
there was a jerk, and the Vern rapidly slowed. Somewhere close they could
hear tearing, snapping, and popping as the Vern came to an abrupt stop;
followed by a lifting, and then a less violent drop to a gentle stop. The
cacophony of noise was replaced by total silence.
lay reclined, not moving, not speaking, just waiting for something else
Hogan spoke. “Are we down?”
“I think so?” Answered Betty Lou unsurely. “Except
for some reason the ground ranger is telling me we are three metres in the
there was silence as they all began to realize they had actually set down
on the Ghost Planet.
opened the hatch and stared out; he took in a deep breath, held it and then
let it go.
a voice called from behind.
to wet; a bit musty with a sharpness… a trace of Petrichor: wet soil
for those of you who don’t know, chilly and rarefied. No over exertion
unless you want to get dog-tired in rapid time, otherwise the air is fine.
I think you all can take your helmets off now.”
climbed down the outside onto the skids, hung down and let go. He fell to
the ground in a crouch, hitting the paving with more force than he should
have, and after weeks of zero gravity it felt like a fifty-K impact. His
legs collapsed and he fell in a heap.
Betty Lou saw him sprawled across
the road. “Richard, are you okay?” she
called down to him with less concern than he expected.
He didn’t know, but lifted
his hand in a general, feeble wave. “I’m fine. I thought
we were told the gravity was going to be weak?”
stood and looked around. It wasn’t the most elegant of first footsteps:
or what he had planned, but they were his. Pride flooded him; he was the
first man to step on an alien planet. Forget the Moon, forget Mars, they
were backyard; they were family; they weren’t alien at all. It was
him, Richard Ford who was the first human to set foot on a truly alien world,
but not even he had imagined one like this? He looked along the street,
and it was a street. He had to remind himself that what he was looking at
was real and wasn’t conjured up by some scenery tech from a sci-fi
medieval theme park crossed with alien that made it all the more theme park’ish.
He decided at that moment that he would buy some land somewhere and replicate
it all once they got back to Earth. Sometimes he had brilliant insights,
he had never given building any sort of amusement park a seconds notice,
but he had never had such inspiration.
“If you are ready?” The voice was borderline sarcastic and coming
Ford turned to see Stewart’s
ankles hanging at his face level. “What?”
me down, grab my legs?”
sounded annoyed but Ford wasn’t in habit of grasping men’s thighs
for whatever reason. Reluctantly he did controlling Stewarts fall. Together
they helped the others down and then they all took in their surroundings.
were two predominant colours: the Grey Black of the stonework and the deep,
dark Red vegetation. It was as if they had stepped back to the dawn of photography
and were looking at the off colour monochrome pictures of some surreal ancient
town, made more the weird under crimson clouds. A shiver ran down his spine;
it wasn’t a theme park he was looking at, it was the set for a horror
movie. He shook off the feeling, hoping no one had noticed his reaction.
plants congregated along the cracks creating a rich blood colour that seemed
to be oozing from the between the stone blocks; it was spreading before
Helen pulled a screwdriver from her
mission suit’s maintenance pocket. “This is impossible.”
She said as she held the tip in front of the creeper to block it. It’s
movement stopped as it touched the smooth carbon rod. They watched in fascination
as it lifted slightly up the screwdriver and seemed to point into the air.
Helen suddenly gave out a short, shocked cry of surprise and fear, before
she dropped the screwdriver as if it had burnt her.
Betty Lou reached out quickly. “Are
you all right?” she said in concern.
Helen was visibly frightened: she
stared at the vine, unable to look away as it lay back; spread under the
screwdriver and carried on its way. “It was looking at me.”
She said in a wavering voice.
“It was what?” Betty Lou looked at it, other than it was
spreading remarkably fast there was nothing unusual, except for the colour,
and except for the way it was getting thicker.
“It looked at me?” the terrified woman blurted out again.
had begun to laugh; Betty Lou threw him a mean stare and pulled Helen away.
Tony gave a low whistle. “Will
you get a load of that?”
“Accelerated growth.” Said Ford. “This is marvelous,
it probably only ever does this once every four hundred years to take advantage
of the thaw. Nature grabs the chances when it can; a few things do something
similar on Earth. Birth, reproduction and death in a brief time, but I’ve
never seen any plant do what this is doing, and I should know, one of my
bio companies been trying to get a growth increase a fraction of what this
can achieve. If we find nothing else this alone is worth the trip.”
Hogan wasn’t quite so impressed.
“Blood red, looks at you, and covers everything; you think that’s
a good thing?”
colour could be easily explained. I’m guessing it photosyntheses in
a similar way to Chlorophyll F, harvesting light from the far Red. As for
having eyes now that would be amazing, she’s letting her emotions
get control after Clives death? Believe me in the right hands this is worth
knew whose hands they were going to be. They tore their eyes away and looked
across the open space, or what they could see of it. Everywhere was dripping
wet, as if they were in the wettest cloud forest, and through some of the
windows: in the darker places, huge chunks of ice could still be seen.
couldn’t see far down the street to either side as ground hugging:
swirling, mists had begun to form. The sun was still a long way off but
its warming effects were obvious, even though its light was weak through
the leaden clouds that swirled above. A light to medium snow was falling.
Hogan spoke without taking his eyes
off what he could see. “Did you ever visit that Hogwarts adventure
thing in the winter?”
“It’s not the same,” said Ford.
“Nothing like it?” added Tony.
Betty Lou ploughed middle ground.
“I don’t know, use a bit of imagination and maybe?”
Stewart looked up. The Vern lay against
a tall tower of hewn stone. His eyes climbed to the tall cupola at its top;
it was wrapped in one of the decent parachutes. “It was that, that
saved us from a hard landing.”
all looked up at the ripped red and white material.
“Talk about lucky,” muttered Tony. “If we had of crashed
we could have ended up stranded here?”
“Don’t even joke about that.”
Said Helen seriously.
“What should have saved us.”
Grumbled Betty Lou. “Would
have been a proper decent.”
Ford looked at her in a hostile way.
“For my part we had enough fuel; the calculations were correct.”
tensed, feeling the blame was being thrown onto him.
“You both could be right.” Said Tony. “It’s just possible
that at the rate the ice is melting and changing states it has an unbalancing
effect. Maybe it’s effecting the rotation and increasing gravity?”
Betty Lou shook her head. “This
is sure some weird place?”
“All that aside guys.” Interrupted Stewart. “The Vern is
no good to us half way up a tower; we need to get it down and into a clear
space so we can lift off again.”
“Can’t that wait?” Said Ford impatiently. “We should
look around first and get some idea of where all this came from?”
“Aren’t you forgetting the training?”
A plan was forming in Stewart’s
head. “Secure for departure first thing?”
“Look around you?” grumbled Ford. “It almost certainly
been like this for centuries; what can happen now?”
don’t know, but procedures are there for a reason.”
what do we do, find the nearest plant hire yard and rent a crane?”
Richard, we climb the tower and cut the tethers.”
you will excuse the observation, but completing what we just avoided sounds
just a tad bit stupid.”
Stewart tensed again; Betty Lou intervened.
“Gentlemen, we are all in this together, accusing and name calling
are neither productive or helpful. Maybe a compromise?”
drew in a deep breath and nodded.
Betty Lou looked at Ford expectantly.
“Then what do you intend commander?”
he said calmly.
I said cut the ropes, but not all at once. My intention is that if enough
are severed the weight of the capsule will hang from the parachutes remains,
tearing it in a controlled way so that the Vern comes down slowly?”
Ford still wanted the last word.
“And if it doesn’t and smashes down?”
whoever goes up needs to make sure it doesn’t?”
“Whoever?” Ford looked at him. “Isn’t
that you? You are commander and it’s your idea.”
“Yes…” No matter what he had said about exploring
he was as keen as any of them to have a look around. “Yes…
Okay, I’ll go up the tower.”
Lou looked at him. “Then you don’t need us all here to help?”
its down we need to move it clear of the buildings; I can’t do that
on my own?”
but for now it just needs you up there?”
He protested weakly, they were all going to have the fun and leave him to
do the mundane. “But there has to be somebody down here to tell
me what’s happening?”
Betty Lou looked around. “Any
volunteers?” Nobody spoke. Now she sighed. “Then
I suppose I’ll do it.”
was a definite mood of relief amoung the others.
Ford and Tony wandered off in one
direction, Hogan and Helen in the other: Stewart lookup the outside of the
tower. He had no idea how high it was but it would be a long way down if
he fell out of one of the windows, and that was a distinct possibility.
He chose one as low as possible, that he should be able to reach at least
two of the ropes from. “Well I’ll do it then?”
he said to Betty Lou in the forlorn hope that somebody else would appear
and take his place. Nobody did and she just nodded.
had been a door at some time but now it was rotted away. Stewart pushed
the remains aside and stepped over the fallen bits. Immediately the hairs
on the back of his neck stood on end. He had the weirdest feeling of not
being welcome. The flashlight flooded the room with light and the feeling
guessed that what had once been furniture lay over the floor; at least he
was guessing at what it had been; now was crushed flat. Rapidly melting
blocks of ice still covered some of it. On the walls were what could have
been traces of red paint, but anything else that had hung there had been
scraped off with the action of the ice.
tried to concentrate. They were on an expedition, he knew all of this should
be recorded, and it would be. He forced himself to put everything else out
of his mind and searched for some stairs, fearing that they too could have
been pulverised out of existence; he didn’t want to think what to
do if that had happened. Thankfully they hadn’t, they were made of
the shadow frost covered the surface so Stewart carefully began to climb,
one step at a time. The steps were narrow and his work boots half hung over.
He wished there were handrails to steady him but there was only the damp,
greasy wall. He came to the first floor; there was a way to go yet, he needed
to get to the third. The feeling he wasn’t alone was growing; it seemed
to be just outside the edge of the beam of light. By the time he was climbing
the second set of stairs it was so strong he could almost touch the sensation,
but by then he could see the faint light entering the window on the landing
was rushing; he knew he shouldn’t and then his foot slipped on the
ice-covered step. He fell forward cracking his head; his consciousness was
flickering and the feeling of dread was overpowering. Somewhere below he
could hear the flashlight clattering down the steps. His face was flat against
the cold stone, and the chill cut through waking him up. Below there was
a pool of yellow light; around him were the eyes. He was going crazy, and
then Clive was stood on the landing beside the window. Stewart felt the
hairs stand up on the back of his neck.
“Where am I?” Clive was asking him in a pathetic lost voice.
“Where I am?” he said again.
Stewart said in absolute disbelief. “How did you…”
that… I don’t remember… what’s happening?”
Stewart didn’t know himself.
He blinked trying to get his eyes to work, but he couldn’t dispel
the feeling that eyes surrounded them both. “Clive don’t
you remember; were here to explore.”
They want me to go with them?”
who are they?”
knew we would come; someone would come.”
was dumfounded. “Waiting for us who has been waiting for us?”
say that each time they saw the Blue planet the light grew. Now is the time.”
grew… you mean the city lights; they’ve been watching out as
we gained technology?”
is the time they can live again?”
Clive don’t listen to them any more.”
say I am one of them?”
your one of us. You just forgot to switch on your blanket?”
“They… want me to go with them?”
Stewart was desperate as he got to
his knees. He could see vague shapes in the light from above and below and
reached for the knife strapped to his thigh. He gripped it tightly. “You
are with us; you are with the team.”
say that was before.”
no, your still one of us. Don’t listen to them; your one of the team.”
have to go with them.”
you don’t have to; fight them.”
are too strong to resist.”
“You must resist.” Stewart was on his feet; he could feel the
taste of blood in his mouth. “They are not us, they are different.
You know you are different; look at them, look at me, are they you; they
are not us.” Stewart slowly climbed the stair towards Clive, continually
keeping him talking as he took step by step.
want to be us.”
He was just three steps below the
landing. “Us, no they can never be us?
Clive looked confused, torn. “They
have been waiting… for so long.”
why, what for?”
“For us… they have watched
and waited… They have seen humanity evolve... We knew the time would
Clive seemed to be losing his battle.