Half a Cup of Coffee Publishing
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First published in the UK by Half a Cup of Coffee, 2017
Text copyright © J.J. Wright, 2017
The right of J.J. Wright to be identified as the author of this work
has been asserted by him.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and dialogues are
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Part 1: Daniel
Note From The Author
Part 2: Prequel Stories
Note From the Author
The Briefing at The End of The Day
Getting Help For A Child
Buying An Identity
A Long Flight
One Night In An Office
Part 3: My Life In Science Fiction
My Life In Science Fiction: Introduction
My Life In Science Fiction: The War of The Worlds
My Life In Science Fiction: Blakes 7
My Life In Science Fiction: Red Dwarf
My Life In Science Fiction: Thunderbirds
My Life In Science Fiction: Honourable Mentions
Note From The Author
Also By J.J. Wright
About The Author
This book is a collection of short stories and other works tied to the novel Mars Encounter by J.J. Wright. It’s hoped that you enjoy this work regardless if you have already read the main novel or if you are new to the works of J.J. Wright.
This collection is in three parts. Part one is a bonus story written exclusively for this release. It’s a novella which has some characters from the main novel but is more of a focus on other characters from within the Mars Encounter universe. It’s hoped that this short story will be a good introduction to the Mars Encounter story or provide extra insight for those who have already read the main novel.
Part two is a collection of short stories that were realised in the build up to the launch of Mars Encounter in May 2017. These stories are all stand-a-lone stories. Some of them feature characters which play a roll in the main novel, others are the build up to moments from the book.
Part three is a collection of blog entries by J.J. Wright. This blog series is was entitled My Life In Science Fiction. It was written by J.J. Wright to show the science fiction stories that influenced him and his writing. These blog entries have been extended for this release with new information and new insights into these classic science fiction franchises.
The Mars Encounter universe is a vast place. There’s lots of secrets, conspiracies, plots and deceptions. The focus of the main novel is on the central and UK bases on Mars. I wanted to explore what human life was like on some of the other bases on Mars. This story is focused on the US base and is set a little earlier in the timeline.
I wanted to write an extra story for this publication one which shows this world and the people in it.
10:30 EDT, March 4th 2010
Student Halls, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, Earth
Daniel awoke are realised he was hungover. This surprised him as he hadn’t been drinking the night before but had been in the lab. Then Daniel remembered just how many cups of coffee he had gone through. This was going to be a tough day. Daniel’s head continued to hurt as he got up and showered. An hour or so later when checking his emails his head was still hurting although at least the rest of him was now awake. To his surprise and horror, he found an email from the Dean’s office summoning him to a meeting at the earliest moment. Daniel thought about this for a moment and tried to figure out why the Dean would want to see him. He decided to take a look later in the day. Then another email popped up with the words ‘THAT MEANS NOW!!!’. Daniel quickly finished getting dressed and headed over to the Dean’s office, panicking that he was in serious trouble. He burst in through the office doors to find the Dean’s secretary looking as flustered as he did.
“You must be Daniel.” The secretary asked and informed at the same time.
“Go right on through, they are expecting you.” The secretary said, motioning Daniel towards the door. He walked in and immediately saw the Dean of the college sitting behind his desk laughing. It took Daniel a moment or two longer to notice the man with his back to the door. From what Daniel could tell it looked like the man was wearing a military uniform of some description.
“Agh, Daniel, you’ve joined us.” The dean said, raising from his seat. “Thank you for making yourself available to us at such short notice.” The dean walked from around his desk and towards Daniel with his arm extended, ready to shake hands. “It’s good to see you again.” The dean spoke with an almost convincing enthusiasm in his voice. Daniel shook the Dean’s hand, confused by the apparent familiarity the Dean addressed him with, after all to Daniel’s knowledge the two men had never actually met before. “This is Captain Lowheart of the US Marine Corps and he’s here to speak to you.”
“The US Marines, I’m not interested thanks.”
“Now Daniel don’t be quick to judge, you may want to hear what he has to say. I’ve known Captain Lowheart for a few years now and he’s actually taken some of my best students away from us to serve our country.”
“I don’t really see my future serving in a uniform, sorry for the wasted trip.” Daniel said dismissively.
“Just hear him out.” The dean said with a smile before steadily walking towards the door. “I’ll leave you two alone.” The dean walked through the door and closed it behind him, making a big show of the act.
“Can’t say I blame you about the uniform.” Captain Lowheart said as he rose from his chair, twisting as he did so to face Daniel. He spoke in a deep authoritive tone which filled the otherwise silet room. “My name is Captain Lowheart of the United States Marine Corps and I’m here to talk to you about last night.”
“Last night, you must have the wrong guy, sorry for a wasted trip.” Daniel replied. “I was in the radio lab all of last night working with a telescope out of Hawaii.”
“I know.” The Marine said crisply. “That’s why I’m here. You picked up a signal last night right, something you didn’t understand.”
“How do you know that?” Daniel asked, suspicious.
“You logged the transmission as unknown.” Lowheart walked towards Daniel. “The people I work for get told about these sorts of things.”
“The Marine Corps?”
“Another part of the government, I represent them.” Lowheart walked towards the Dean’s desk and looked down at the open file sitting on it. “How are you finding it here at MIT?”
“It’s difficult but you know.”
“Your freshmen year straight A’s but since then very mediocre grades.” Lowheart looked up at Daniel. “Struggling?”
“It’s been a tough year.”
“Finally had to work for it did you? College sure can be a shock for some smart guys like you.” Lowheart sounded cocky.
“My sister is sick, cancer it’s been distracting shall we say.”
“I understand. Family is important to you.”
“It’s important to everyone, isn’t it?” Daniel was starting to tie of this guy. “Look are we done here or what?”
“It was a satellite.” Lowheart said abruptly. “The transmission it was from a top secret military satellite, I need you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It’s a matter of national security.” Lowheart reached into his jacket pocket. “School and cancer treatment, your parents must be loaded.”
“I’m on a scholarship.”
“You’re on a partial scholarship.” Lowheart handed the document to Daniel. “It says so in your file. You should realise, you’re not that bright kid.”
“Whatever.” Daniel snatched the document, gave is a cursory glance before signing it. “Look you can say all you like about secret satellites but that was no satellite.” Daniel handed the document back to Lowheart. “It’s not on any satellite database. Even the ones composed by amateur satellite watchers and they always know.”
“It’s extremely classified, we keep it off those lists.”
“How come it stood still for over ten minutes then?” Daniel asked.
“I went to make myself a coffee and when I came back the signal was still in the same place.”
“That wasn’t in your log.”
“I didn’t think it was relevant.”
“And you checked all military databases?”
“Including the classified ones, I hacked my way in, I’m good with computers.” Daniel stood smugly for a moment. Lowheart looked back down at the folder on the dean’s desk. Daniel could tell the Marine was thinking for a moment. “Do you play chess?”
“What?” Daniel asked once again confused by the twists and turns of this conversation. “A little, not much why?”
“Nothing really.” Lowheart had obviously changed his mind about something. “A colleague of mine swears by chess as a way of judging a man’s character, I personally never much cared for the game myself.” Lowheart came back from behind the table. “You checked all those databases to make sure.”
“I like to be sure.”
“I see.” Lowheart started walking towards the door. “Daniel will you take a walk with me, there’s something I want to tell you and I need to be sure that this room isn’t bugged.”
“I promise you it will be the most amazing thing you have ever heard.” Lowheart smiled as he opened the door and Daniel stepped through it.
11:30 EDT, March 4th 2010
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, Earth
Daniel and Lowheart had made it out to the college grounds in silence. Neither man willing to say a single word. Eventually Lowheart was the one to break the silence.
“Do you know why I joined the Marine Corps?” Lowheart asked.
“No idea. You like going to other people’s country and taking their oil?” Daniel replied.
“Funny.” Lowheart faked a laughter. “You’re a funny guy. I joined for the adventure, the excitement all of the wrong reasons. I wanted to be a hero.”
“I no longer work for the Marine Corps Daniel, sure I wear the uniform and that’s what it says on my pay check but in actuality I work for another organisation, a secret one.”
“The one with the satellite.”
“Do you believe that story?”
“Not a chance.”
“I told them back in the office it wouldn’t work, they thought your poor grades were a sign of you not being too bright.”
“I told you…”
“I know, I know the sister.” Lowheart took a deep breath in for a moment. “If you had to guess then what would you say that signal was?”
“I don’t know, some sort of floating aircraft.”
“A UFO?” Lowheart said, sceptically.
“Well yeah but not like aliens, Russian or something.”
“Do you want to know the truth?” Lowheart said. The two men had reached a bench and Lowheart sat down on it. Daniel joined him. “I joined the USMC to have an adventure and the truth is I am part of the biggest adventure imaginable.” Lowheart thought for a moment, thinking over his decision. “Daniel the organisation I work for is called the Martian Operations Agency or MOA.”
“Please Daniel, this is much easier if you don’t ask questions.”
“There is alien life on Mars. That signal you picked up was a transmission from one of the tribes. Routine stuff really, actually quite boring.”
“We have a network of satellites that intercept these transmissions and stop them from getting to Earth, every now and then one gets through.”
“I see, you’re crazy.” Daniel went to stand up.
“Daniel the MOA is there to protect human assets on the planet of Mars.” Lowheart hoped that one sentence would stop Daniel from walking away. Daniel stood still. “There are people living and working on the surface of Mars right now and I want you to go and join them.”
“What?” Daniel was shocked. He started to walk away.
“Daniel stay and listen to me, you already know too much.” Lowheart pleaded with him. Daniel turned and walked back towards the bench.
“Know too much? All I know is that you’re a nut job.”
“Daniel, I can’t un-tell you what you already know, if you don’t sit down and hear me out then you will die within the next twenty-four hours.”
“Die, you are threatening me, you’re going to murder me?”
“It will look like a suicide, the sister dying of cancer the poor grades it won’t be hard to convince people.” Lowheart spoke with a mix of fear and hope in his eyes. Fear that Daniel wouldn’t sit back down, hope that he would. “It’s what I do Daniel, my job is to keep the secret of Mars from being found out. Sit back down and I promise your sister’s medical bills will be paid in full.”
“You promise.” Daniel asked.
“I can have her moved to the very best facility, this afternoon if you like. She will receive the very best treatment for her condition.”
“Don’t mess with me.” Daniel said as he sat back down, Lowheart looked relieved.
“Let me start at the beginning. In 1968 Apollo 8 picked up a secret transmission from the other side of the moon. It came from a very old probe sent by the Martian people thousands of years ago.” Lowheart spoke softly, not wanting anyone else to hear. “The probe took a couple of years to translate but eventually we managed to work it out. It belonged to an ancient race of Martians. That civilisation has since died out and inn it’s place there are two distinct tribes living just under the surface in caves. There is the Haissisut a race of mainly farmers, trying to make their way in life, a simple people really.” Lowheart took a deep breath before continuing. “Then there’s the Weona Napl.” Lowheart thought for a moment. “They are the real problem. Quite technologically advanced, ahead of us in many ways. Deeply religious, they believe the study of science, mathematics and engineering to be almost a spiritual pursuit. They are the real military threat on Mars.” Lowheart let what he was saying sink in for a moment.
“You’re crazy.” Daniel said.
“And you are repeating yourself. Admit it though, something about what I am saying rings true. Something inside of you believes what I am saying to be the truth. You don’t know what it is but somehow something about it makes sense.”
“The Haissisut and Weona Napl have been fighting each other for centuries, longer even. Right now, though is a period of peace, no-one knows for sure how long that peace will last but we believe in preparing for the next war.”
“The MOA operates a base on Mars for research and diplomatic work. The US, UK, France, Russia and China all have their own separate bases as well.” Lowheart thought for a moment again, he knew the next bit would be difficult. “And I think you should go and live and work on our base, in their radio technology lab.”
“That’s it I’m off.” Daniel rose and started to walk away.
“No Daniel you’re not.” Lowheart rose and grabbed Daniels arm. Daniel became instantly aware that there was something digging into his chest. “Daniel, I will shoot you if you walk away. We have connections everywhere I won’t go to prison for it. I’ll get a week’s leave and be back to work before your body is cold.”
“What’s happening?” Daniel asked, panicked, and finally realising the dangerous game he was playing.
“Either come with us or die.”
“What about my sister?”
“Come with us and I’ll keep my end of the bargain. Get in the van.” Lowheart ordered. A black panel van emerged from nowhere and pulled up in front of the pair. It’s brakes screeching as it did so. “Get in the van Daniel.”
11:45 TOT, March 7th 2010
Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth
Daniel awoke with a headache again. He hoped it had all been a dream and he would find himself back in his dorm at MIT. Instead he found himself in a strange hospital bed alone. The bad UV lighting and dull white surface hurting his eyes at first. After blinking for a few times, he came to and realised where he was. He was in the exact same place he had been for the past three days. Although that had felt like a dream and his dreams felt like reality. The door burst open and a doctor walked into the room.
“Good you’re awake. How are you feeling?” The doctor said, not really waiting for any form of response. “Good news, your free to walk out of here today, you’ll be taken to orientation shortly. Good luck.” Then the doctor was gone. Daniel didn’t notice the door opening or the doctor walking away. He just had become aware that the doctor was no longer in the room. Eventually after several hours some nurses came by and helped Daniel to get up and dressed. He was given a white and grey jump suit to wear and told someone would be along to get him in a minute. Another few hours past. There was a knock at the door and a tall brunet woman in her late twenties entered. Her long hair both stylish and cut for a professional look. She was not unattractive but had wasn’t beautiful either. She obviously worked out but for sport and not just to look good.
“You Daniel, the kid from MIT?” She asked in a British accent.
“Yes.” Daniel replied. Grateful that she was looking for him and not some other guy.
“Good your dressed. Ready to go.”
“Sure.” Daniel said, jumping from the bed he had been sitting on. He walked out and joined her in the corridor.
“My name is Rachel, I’m to be your liaison officer.”
“Hi Rachel.” Daniel said, starting to feel nervous.
“Do you know where you are?” Rachel asked.
“Not exactly.” Daniel replied. “Last thing I remember clearly I was being thrown into a van at MIT.” Daniel struggled to think of what happened. “Oh my god my parents.” Daniel suddenly realised that he hadn’t spoken to them in a few days. “Can I call them? They will be worried.” Daniel stopped walking.
“Daniel, you can’t call them.” Rachel said, slightly shocked that he hadn’t been told this. “You’re here now that’s it.”
“What do you mean?”
“They have been told a cover story that you have been selected to work with the government. They will receive a few fake letters from you and then in about two months they will be told you died in an accident.” Rachel waited for a moment. “Oh good it’s lunch time, you hungry?”
“What? What about my sister?”
“She can’t come to lunch with us.”
“I mean I was told she would receive treatment if I co-operated, was that true?”
“Probably.” Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know it’s possible. We will never know. I hope it’s salad today, I’m in the mood for Salad.”
“I have to know. I will find out.”
“Try too hard and they will kill you.” Rachel said with a serious tone. “Now come on let’s get some lunch.” The pair walked in silence down the corridor and left the building. Daniel was struck by the day light for a moment. The bright glowing sun hitting his face for the first time in a few days. The heat and humidity striking a contrast against the cold winter of Massachusetts. “You know where you are right?” Rachel asked again, concerned by the shock Daniel was going through.
“I remember someone saying something about an Island in the South Pacific but I don’t recall exactly where.”
“That’s all any of us know really. No one is allowed to know the exact location.”
“Daniel, you must realise this is a military installation, a highly secret one at that.”
“But you’re not military.”
“Sure I am. I’m an officer in the Royal Air Force specialising in electronic warfare.”
“But you’re not in uniform.”
“No need for military uniform here.” Rachel said. She walked over towards another much larger building and walked in. The walked straight into a massive cafeteria filled with people. “Sit down, I’ll get you some food.” Daniel sat down at a nearby table by himself. He couldn’t help like feeling he was back at high school, sitting by himself in the lunch hall the new kid in school. A moment or two of looking around feeling nervous passed by before a small man with glasses slammed his tray down on the table opposite Daniel.
“You must be the MIT kid hey.” The man said with a thick Texan accent, spit flying from his face as he spoke his beard catching some of it. “Nice to meet you my name is Doctor Lomax.”
“Hey I guess.”
“You’re part of Rachel’s team hey, me too.” Lomax offered his hand out for Daniel to shake. Daniel did so and Lomax sat down. “I specialise in radio wave technology particularly receivers. You?”
“I was at MIT studying radio astrophysics.”
“It can be, mostly it’s boring and routine.”
“Physics is never routine.” Lomax said as he started to eat his lunch. Rachel came over carrying two plastic trays. Both with salad bowls and bottles of water.
“I see you’ve met Lomax. He’s a character, isn’t he?”
“Hello Rachel, my dear.” Lomax said with a mouth full of food.
“Don’t call me that Lomax or I’ll have to throw you onto the floor again like I did last time.”
“Yes Rachel.” Lomax said shamefully, his face sinking to stare at his food.
“Eat up Daniel, this afternoon you have your physical assessment and they will then put together your training programme.”
“Why?” Daniel asked.
Later that evening Daniel was feeling sore. He had been pocked and prodded by a score of doctors. Then forced to do every kind of stretch and exercise known to man. All he wanted to do was collapse on his bunk, which he still hadn’t seen, and fall asleep. But instead he was sitting in a small office waiting for Rachel. Lomax was sitting next to him with a large sandwich he had smuggled out of the canteen. Rachel walked in and wait straight to the front of the room.
“Sorry I’m late guys, I had a conference call with the Martian base, it took longer than I expected.” Rachel said. Throwing the pile of folders she was carrying down onto the table. “We have been moved up in the timeline.” Rachel said smiling. “Good news is we now have all of the details of the mission.”
“Mission?” Daniel asked. “What mission?”
“Beats me.” Lomax said with food coming out of his mouth on every syllable.
“You still don’t know?” Rachel asked. “Of course you don’t I haven’t explained it to you yet.” Rachel said, almost muttering to herself as if it was meant for only her. “We are going to form a special team of Anglo-American’s working on Mars.” Rachel said proudly. “Our main task will be in intercepting and de-coding Weona Napl transmissions.” Rachel felt excited saying it out loud. She waited for a response from the pair sitting in front of her. “Nothing. Really?” Rachel said disappointed. “We are going to go to Mars to spy on aliens, isn’t that exciting.”
“To be honest.” Daniel started. “It’s a little mundane after finding out that there is life on mars.”
“Maybe.” Rachel said, opening up one of the folders. “We have four weeks to get ourselves ready. Four weeks and we will join the team at the US base to begin work. Daniel we are going to have to work hard to get you up to speed in time. I’ve had a word with some of the instructors here on the Island, they are up to the challenge we will give you every support we can. Lomax, try and lose some weight.”
“I’m working on it.” Lomax said, he sounded convincing if it wasn’t for the big dollop of mustard which came out of his sandwich as he spoke.
21:35 TOT, March 23rd 2010
Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth
Three weeks had passed since Daniel had first been briefed about the true purpose of his mission to Mars. Training had been tough and full on. In the mornings he had to attend lectures on Martian life, their biology and culture. Always focusing on the Weona Napl way of life, never the Haissisut. Others in the class would work on both the Martian tribes but not Daniel or the rest of his team. The afternoons were mainly spent in fitness and physical endurance training. Occasionally they would get to train on simulators or special equipment to get prepared for working on Mars. The evenings were spent practicing on the equipment they would be using on the surface. This left just a few years of revision before bed and the whole thing would start up again, 7 days a week, every day was just the same. Daniel hadn’t really gotten to know anyone from outside of the team that well. He, along with the rest of Rachel’s team had been posted in special quarters in the American research building.
Daniel starred at the computer monitor once more and tried to focus on the information on the screen. He had been chosen because of his understanding of radio waves. But everything was different on Mars. The thin atmosphere, high radiation and even the composition of the rocks effect the way the radio waves behave. This meant that everything Daniel had ever learnt that had gotten him here was wrong. He had to re-learn most of the physics that he had always taken for granted and on this day in particularly that was a difficult thing to do. The dull light from his desk lamp did little to brighten his own spirit whilst trying to force himself to study. There was a sudden knock at the door which acted as both a relief and a frustration.
“Come in.” Daniel shouted. The door slowly opened and Rachel peered through, hoping she wouldn’t see something that she shouldn’t.
“Are you still up Daniel?” Rachel asked as she slowly crept through the open door way.
“Yes, I’m still working.” He replied in a yell, half-heartedly tearing himself away from the data he was looking at.
“Good your dressed, look we need to talk, as a team.” Rachel said softly as she walked further in Daniel’s bedroom.
“Is everything alright, we launch in less than a week.” Daniel asked with concern in his voice.
“We need to go to the conference room, we need to talk.” Rachel said before turning round and heading out of the room. Daniel stood quickly and reached for his jacket. Instinctively he picked up a pad of paper and a pen too. He walked out of the room grabbing his key and locking the door before entering a half jog to catch up with Rachel who was already half way down the corridor.
“What’s happening?” Daniel asked.
“A brief, a very special briefing.” Rachel replied. It didn’t take long for the pair to make it to the conference room. As they walked in Daniel spotted Lomax already sitting in a chair. There were three chairs in total, all positioned facing each other. “Thanks for coming down Lomax.”
“Don’t mention it.” Lomax said with a broad smile.
“So what’s this all about?” Daniel asked whilst sitting down.
“I don’t know how to say this.” Rachel looked up at the ceiling, then down at the floor before examining the walls around the room. She finally put her hands up to her face and covered her eyes. A deep long inhale of breath came through her fingers. “I really don’t think I’m cut out for this bit.” Rachel took her hands away before shaking her head, trying to shake off the feeling she had. “I’m just going to come out and say it.” Rachel took a moment to gather herself briefly. “Lomax you’re not going to Mars.”
“What?” Lomax asked, stunned by the news. Daniel was shocked by the news. He didn’t know what to do with himself. “What do you mean?”
“Lomax, it’s your fitness.” Rachel knew this was going to be difficult. “You can’t go on the mission. They’ve grounded you.”
“Lomax I’m so sorry.” Was about all that that Daniel could offer.
“Don’t worry Daniel.” Lomax said trying to fake a smile as he spoke. “I’ll still get to go, just I’ll have to wait for a later mission that’s all.”
“That’s not going to happen Lomax.” Rachel said with a mix of anger and sympathy. “You’ve been put forward for re-assignment I’m afraid, you’re no longer assigned to active service.”
“What does that mean?” Daniel asked.
“It’s fine.” Lomax replied. “I’ll find something.”
“I’ve spoken to the guys here at the Island, they think they can find a post for you here, training new recruits. Sorry Lomax you’re not going to Mars.”
“But I gave up everything.” Lomax spoke in a mix of sobbing and anger. Daniel grew uncomfortable, unsure why he had been brought in to this room, why he was part of this very private conversation. He looked around nervously, unsure where to rest his gaze. “I didn’t turn my back on my family to become a teacher, I could have done that back home.” Lomax screamed. He stood up and started to pace the room. “I want to go back, I want to go back.”
“You know that isn’t an option Lomax.” Rachel said, trying to calm Lomax down. “You know they won’t allow you to go back into the real world. This is the best option.”
“Best for you?”
“They are prepared to shoot you Lomax.” Rachel replied in a cold tone of voice. She spoke matter of factly like a doctor delivering bad news. “They will take you outside and put a bullet in your brain. I’ve managed to get them to agree that you are more useful alive then dead.”
“I will appeal, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Who too?” Rachel muttered quietly. “No one is listening Lomax, you’ve been grounded.” Rachel spoke a little louder but still softly. Her sympathy for Lomax had out grown her own frustration with the situation. “If you kick up a fuss then you’ll lose even this.” Lomax came round to the point he was face-to-face with Rachel, their noses almost touching. She could feel his anger radiating from his face.
“I WANTED TO GO TO MARS.” Lomax barked through gritted teeth.
“That’s isn’t going to happen anymore.”
“You promised me.” Lomax said before marching out of the room. Daniel instinctively rose out of his chair, assuming that all was over.
“I didn’t think it would be that bad.” Rachel said to herself.
“It’s a big shock to him.” Daniel offered, unsure if he was ok to speak or not.
“I meant bad for me.” Rachel said shyly. Rachel went to talk out of the room. She stopped by the door way and paused for a moment. “Get some sleep, we meet at Six hundred to go over the packing of the equipment. It’s just me and you now.”
12:00 TOT, April 5th 2010
Martian Operations Agency Training Facility, Somewhere in the South Pacific, Earth
Daniel couldn’t believe where he was. Ten. He had been strapped into his seat for over an hour and yet he still couldn’t believe it. He was lying in a real-life rocket, ready to be blasted off to Mars. Somehow everything seemed real all of a sudden in a way that it just hadn’t until now. Nine. He was sitting in a rocket, a real-life rocket that would soon propel him into the sky. This was as far from home as he could ever have imagined being, yet he was about to go a lot further. Eight. Daniel thought back to home, back to his family after all he had no real way of knowing if his sister was receiving the medical treatment he had been promised. He suddenly realised that he would probably never know for sure if this sacrifice was worth it. Seven. Sacrifice seemed like such a weird way of describing the adventure he was about to participate in, one which most people could only dream of. But Daniel knew that it was a sacrifice as well as a dream. Six. So much of a normal life wouldn’t be open to him now, his own family, a career that he had always wanted, his own house a nice car were all things that he would miss out on. Daniel thought about the dream house he had always wanted, the nice wife, two kids a dog that would tramps mud into the kitchen. Five. The it dawned on Daniel that there were not materiel things he was going to miss out on too, some painful ones. Although this would be the most amazing thing he could hope to accomplish there would huge part of the human experience that he will now miss out on. Four. Daniel would never see his sister again. He would never be told when his parents died. Three. Mars’ atmosphere was a lot different to Earth’s, Daniel will never feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on his face. He wouldn’t hear birds singing again or feel rain on his skin or any of the things he had always considered soppy sentimentalism designed only for use in bad country music. Two. Suddenly all of that stuff seemed important to Daniel, it seemed like it mattered more than anything he had ever wanted in his entire life. But now it was too late. One. Now was not the time to morn what he’ll miss out on but to celebrate this great adventure. A Great adventure that suddenly he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a part of. Zero.
Daniels’ chair juddered and shook. His brain rattled inside his head. He felt his heart, lungs, stomach and guts sink inside his chest. Then he was hit by the wall of sound coming up from the engines, it filled his ears. The whole cabin where Daniel was strapped in started to shake and shudder. He tried to move his head, struggling against the forces of nature acting on him, to see Rachel sitting by his side. She was smiling although he eyes had a tinge of fear in them.
“We are on our way.” She screamed at the top of her voice, barely audible over the sounds of the engines. She kept on smiling. Daniel was convinced his ears were about to bleed, that his eyes were about to burst out of his skull and his chest was going to collapse. Suddenly and without warning it stopped. Daniel felt a sudden jolt. The cabin filled with light. Then Daniel noticed how dark it was outside. “Escape tower.” Rachel yelled, despite the noise of the engines have subsided. Daniel was able to force his head to turn so he could see out of the window. The Earth was below him, it looked just like it always did in movies. He tried to look out to space to see which Zeppelin class ship they were going to dock with. “Can you make it out?” Rachel asked
“Just.” Daniel replied. “I think it’s the Pinta.” Daniel kept looking out the window as they approached the much larger craft. He looked on as they slowly floated towards it’s ducking hatch. He listened intently as the loud clanking sounds of the docking clamps filled the cabin. One of the officers closest to the hatch unbuckled himself and then floated towards the hatch way. He slowly worked the mechanism and the door opened.
“It’s safe to unfasten everyone.” The officer spoke out. “Just float on up. Once inside the main crew area grab hold of something before they switch the gravity back on.” He then floated inside. Daniel went to unbuckle himself before Rachel reached out and stopped him.
“Not yet.” Rachel ordered. “We go last.” She added. It was several minutes before everyone had left the cabin. “Now we can go.” Rachel commanded. She quickly unfastened herself and then floated out of her seat, twisting herself round as she did so. “Follow me.” Rachel floated towards the back of the cabin, away from the main hatch. Daniel quickly unbuckled himself before following her. The two then slowly floated down towards the back of the craft eventually reaching a locked door. “We have to get the equipment out.” Rachel said as she undid the fastenings which kept the door shut tightly.” The door opened to reveal the large boxes of equipment they had helped stow there only hours before. Daniel dreaded having to move them again, remembering the heavy weight of each box. As Rachel passed the first one to him he suddenly remembered where he was. He gently pushed the box towards the main hatchway and it floated unaided towards the opening. Daniel spotted a technician floating in the hatchway, ready to receive the box. The three worked together in silence, moving the equipment out.
Several hours later and the Pinta had left Earth’s orbit on its way to Mars. Daniel was standing by a window, trying to make sense of the images flashing before his eyes. He had never seen anything move in the way that the stars seemed to be moving in front of him. Rachel walked up to him.
“Quite a view hey.” Rachel said, before turning her back on the window, the image making her dizzy.
“This is incredible.” Daniel said. “But why must everything be so secret, would it be such a bad thing if the people of Earth knew about this?”
“Some think so.” Rachel replied before adding. “But not everyone.”
“I can’t thank you enough for all this.”
“You are the one that earned it.” Rachel smiled. “There’s been a change of plans, we aren’t going down to the surface with everyone else. We are going to go down in our own pod directly to the US base. It’s better for security.”
“Plus with all the equipment and everything it’s just going to be easier to get down there straight away. Only make one trip.”
“Ok.” Daniel nodded in agreement. “The sooner we can get started the better I guess.”
“Exactly.” Rachel said. “Are you still thinking about your sister?” Rachel asked.
“I’m always thinking about her.”
“Look don’t say anything but I might be able to get information about her whilst we are on Mars. I can’t promise but if I manage to hear anything I’ll tell you.”
“Thanks.” Daniel smiled, realising that Rachel was going to be a good friend to him on Mars.
12:00 MTC, April 7th 2010
United States of America Base, Elysium Mons, Mars
Daniel walked down the corridor following Rachel and a young Lieutenant. He was carrying the mountain of bags and equipment with him whilst Rachel had nothing more than a folder. They made their way down what seemed like a maze of corridors until they reached a small room that looked like it had been discarded for years. Daniel followed them into the room to find three people standing in the room already making it look cramped.
“And this is your team.” The Lieutenant said with a smile. “I’ll leave you guys to get to know each other better, if you need anything, anything at all then please do not hesitate to let me know.”
“Thank you Lieutenant.” Rachel said, the young girl having already left the room before Rachel could finish her sentence. “And she’s gone already, well wasn’t that sweet of her not to outstay her welcome.” Rachel looked around the room and smiled at the three strangers standing before her. “I’m Rachel Leaf pleased to meet you.”
“Sargent Donald Cot, US Marines Marm.” He said whilst giving a solute.
“Please no need for military curtesy.” Rachel said, hoping to come across as friendly. The glare she received from Cot suggested she had failed.
“I’m your military escort Marm.” Cot added.
“Great, great.” Rachel said, nervous by the fact that she hadn’t managed to break the ice with Cot. “And you are?” Rachel asked, turning to face a tall balding man in his early thirties with glasses.
“My name is Connor, I’m with the Weona Napl Cultural Office.” Connor said whilst extending out his hand.
“You’re the translator?” Rachel asked as she put her hand out to meet his.
“That’s right. But I hear your quite fluent in Weona Napl yourself.” Connor said.
“Vepep ne qaaep na setlin viefnoto nofe ne teep.” Rachel said.
“Very good but it’s uqqone not viefnoto.”
“Uqqone.” Rachel tried. Connor nodded as she spoke, pleased with her. “And of course I know you.” Rachel said, turning to face the small woman in the back of the room, hiding behind her thick glasses and short cut curly hair. “You must be Katlyne. So nice to meet you in person after all the times we’ve talked on the conference call.”
“Pleasure to meet you too.” Katlyne said quietly not wanting to draw to much attention to herself. Katlyne then noticed Daniel standing in the door way. “I’m Katlyne, military strategy.”
“You’re an expert in military strategy.” Daniel asked, confused by the sight of the nerdiest girl he had ever seen and being told that she was an expert in warcraft.
“Quite so.” She replied, nodding as she spoke. “And why shouldn’t I be.” Katlyne spoke with a hint of insulted in her voice.
“It’s true.” Cot added. “She might not be much to look at but she is one of the finest military strategists currently living.”
“This whole thing was her idea.” Rachel added. “Learn from your enemy.”
“Well I can’t take all the credit.” Katlyne said, embarrassed by the praise she was receiving.
“So how did you get into military strategy, you don’t really look the type.”
“It was whilst I was studying history at Oxford.” Katlyne said, speaking with more confidence now she was talking but happier university days.
“I thought you went to Cambridge.” Connor interrupted.
“I did, I went to both.”
“At the same time.” Rachel said hopping everyone else in the room would be impressed.
“How’s that possible?” Daniel asked.
“There was a mix up with the paper work.” Katlyne said, embarrassed again. “It was a clerical error.”
“It was fraud.” Cot added.
“I didn’t want to miss out on anything.” Katlyne said defensively.
“She created a false identity and used it to get into Oxford whilst already studying at Cambridge.” Rachel explained. “She would have gone to prison if the Martian Operations Agency hadn’t picked her up.
“I was studying when they recruited me too.” Daniel said sympathetically.
“Where?” Katlyne asked hopefully.
“MIT.” Daniel replied proudly.
“Oh I loved MIT, I did applied mathematics there.” Katlyne said gleefully, before realising that everyone was staring at her. “I don’t want to talk about it, not without a lawyer anyway.” Katlyne’s head dropped. “Although I did study at Harvard Law.”
“Daniel here is our technical expert.” Rachel said hoping to change the subject. “He’ll work with me in setting up the equipment and maintaining it once we are fully operational. Daniel walked into the room and put the boxes down onto the large table. “Well let’s get started shall we.” Rachel added.
The next few hours were spent unpacking boxes. Daniel realised early on that the room wasn’t big enough for the five of them not to mention the masses of equipment that was required. Daniel spent most of the rest of the day unpacking and organising. He knew it would take weeks to build up the equipment that they needed and then yet more time to calibrate it. As the day went on it began to drag. His eyes grew heavy, his hands shaked and he wasn’t able to focus on what he was doing.
“Are you alright Daniel?” Connor asked, poking Daniel as he spoke.
“Fine I guess, why?” Daniel asked.
“You’re practically falling asleep as you work.” Connor added. “Maybe it’s time you headed back to your quarters.”
“I’ll go when Rachel goes.” Daniel said defiantly.
“She went hours ago.” Connor replied. “Have you slept since you left Earth?”
“Maybe I should go to me bed.” Daniel rose and started to head towards the door. “Where is my bed again.” He chuckled to himself. “I have no idea when on this planet my bed is. That seems a weird thing to be able to say.”
“Your exhausted.” Cot stood up and put his arm around Daniel. “I’ll show you where you’ve been billeted.” Cot helped Daniel out of the room and the pair headed down the corridor. Cot practically dragging Daniel as they walked. As they headed down one of the many corridors suddenly Daniel became immovable. Even someone of Cot’s size and stature couldn’t make Daniel walk any further. Cot looked down and realised what Daniel had noticed. Daniel was looking out of one of the small windows which dotted the corridors. His mouth open, his eyes transfixed.
“You know I almost forgot where I was.” Daniel muttered, more to himself then to Cot. Cot turned and looked out the window himself, trying to see the Martian landscape for the first time with new eyes.
“Back on Earth I travelled with the Corps, I saw forests I saw deserts, every week a new country it seemed.” Cot looked back at Daniel. “I never saw anything like this place.”
“That’s a different planet.” Daniel replied.
“It is.” Cot nodded. “When I was first recruited to the Mars programme I assumed the landscape would be boring, dull repetitive.” Cot sighed. “I had no idea there were so many different shades of red.” Cot let the comment hang in the air for a moment. “Come on let’s get you to bed, Mars will still be there in the morning.” Cot dragged Daniel away from the window. Eventually the pair reached Daniel’s new quarters. Cot opened the door and dragged the young man inside, placing him on the bed. “Oh before I forget.” Cot said, realising that Daniel was already asleep. Cot slapped the young man across the face. “Before I forget if you have nightmares tonight you must tell us.” Cot shook Daniels shoulders, fighting for his attention. “Listen this is important, if you have nightmares you need to let us know.”
“Nightmares?” Daniel asked through his sleep deprived state.
“It’s this whole thing with the British, but it’s important, you must tell us if you ever have nightmares on Mars.”
15:00 MTC, August 12th 2010
United States of America Base, Elysium Mons, Mars
“The antenna?” Rachel asked in disbelief. “All these problems and you guys think it’s the antenna?”
“It’s the only thing that makes any sense.” Daniel replied. He knew his solution sounded simple considering the problems they had been having but Daniel had often found the most simple solutions were usually the right ones. They hadn’t received anything usable since arriving on Mars and the only thing left to check was the antenna. “A small adjustment that’s all we need to do, one small adjustment.”
“How sure are you?” Rachel asked. “Could you do the job yourself?”
“What? Me?” Daniel was in disbelief. “Go outside.”
“You’ll have to at some point, why not now.”
“Has he been trained?” Cot asked, concerned at where this conversation was leading. “Does he know how to work the suit.”
“I had a few theory classes back on the Island but not much else.” Daniel said trying to sound more confident then he actually was.
“Did you do any buoyancy training?” Cot asked, noting Daniel blank look on his face. “Did you go into a swimming pool with weights tied around you?”
“No.” Daniel replied.
“This is going to take time to train him up, maybe it will be quicker to get a maintenance team up to speed on the equipment, they did set it all up for us after all.”
“Including setting up the fault.” Rachel said snidely. “It will take Daniel just as long to get used to the suit as it would to get the maintenance team up to speed on the antenna.”
“I can do this.” Daniel said, realising this might be his one opportunity to walk on Mars.
“Fine then I go out there with him.” Cot suggested as an order. “Just in case.”
“Agreed.” Rachel said.
“Look kid this is going to be tough, we’re not going out for a walk in some park. One mistake could kill us both so you’re going to want to pay attention.” Cot spoke sternly hoping his words would land with Daniel. They did.
Over the following week Daniel and Cot worked on preparing for going outside. Daniel studied hard, hoping to prove himself to Cot. He didn’t know why this was important to him, but he knew that it was. Now they were standing together, suited in their white space suits waiting for the airlock to de-pressurise. Daniel took in a deep breath.
“Ready for this?” Cot asked Daniel.
“Not sure that I am.” Daniel replied, fumbling for the radio buttons on his arm as he spoke.
“Don’t worry, everyone feels a bit like that the first time they go outside.” Cot looked over at his young colleague. “Just keep it under control and pay attention to what you’re doing.”
“Ok.” Daniel replied, trying to take in the advice.
“If all else fails remember what my old Captain used to say.”
“Breath.” Cot spoke just as the airlock door opened. At first Daniel winced, expecting the bright sun light to burst through the airlock door, the first sunlight he had seen in months. The sun light did fill the airlock where the pair were stand but it wasn’t the bright sunlight that he was used to seeing on Earth. This was a duller glare, one that seemed to come from a different sun. Daniel had to remind himself that it wasn’t the sun that was different it was the planet. Cot took the first steeps out of the airlock, trying to mind his head as he did so. He walked out onto the surface before turning to face the airlock, where Daniel was still waiting inside. “What are you waiting for?” Cot asked over the radio.
“I don’t know, I just feel I should say something.”
“I don’t know, something important, something noteworthy.”
“Well you can’t say one small step, that’s already taken.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever walked on a different planet. Surely I should say something.”
“Just get out here will you.” Cot waved his arm in Daniel’s direction.
“As mankind leaves one planet we journey into new adventures.” Daniel spoke in a slow deliberately slow way. Cot shook his head.
“Oh look there’s Darrell.” Cot pointed to another human fixing some other piece of equipment in the distance. “Hey Darrell, see you later.” Cot waved enthusiastically. “That was Darrell.”
“You had to spoil it for me didn’t you?” Daniel asked as he walked towards where Cot was already standing.
“Shall we get started. The aerial is over there.” Cot pointed towards the large wire antenna which towered over the white small structure of the US base. The two men walked across the Martian surface, kicking small rocks with their feet as they did so. It took Daniel a few steps to get used to the lower gravity without the confines of the base walls. He soon realised how effortlessly he could move over the surface of the planet. After a few minutes the two men reached the foot of the antenna.
“It seems bigger now we are faced with it.” Daniel said over the radio.
“I know what you mean.” Cot replied.
“Am I the only one disappointed we don’t have jet packs?”
“What?” Cot asked confused by the comment.
“I’m on an alien fighting, part of a super-secret project spying on an alien race. I should have a jet pack right now right?”
“I suppose.” Cot shrugged his shoulders through the baggy space suit. “What’s your point?”
“Life’s disappointing sometimes I guess.” Daniel pointed towards the antenna. “Shall we start climbing.”
“You first.” Cot replied. Daniel moved over towards the antenna.
“A ladder, that’s spacey.”
“Just get climbing.” Cot motioned towards the ladder that ran all the way up the large antenna frame. Daniel started to make his way up the ladder. At first it seemed to him that the runs on the ladder were too far spaced. It didn’t take many steps for him to realise that this was a ladder designed to be used on Mars where the thinness of the atmosphere and the lower gravity meant it was quite comfortable to use. Daniel started to climb higher and higher, he looked down and noticed that Cot was right behind him. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the read outs on his arm display start to flicker randomly.
“Interference.” Daniel said over the radio whilst trying to point at the readouts and yet still hold onto the ladder.
“You said you thought it might happen.” Cot replied over the radio. “Let me try the control room.” Cot said before pressing a few other buttons on his arm. “US Control, Expedition team.” Cot waited a few moments. “Rachel are you there?” Cot press a button on his arm again. “Looks like we are on our own. Short range radio seems ok. Let’s keep moving.” The two men continued to climb until they reached the top of the ladder. There was a small platform which meant they could stand side by side as they worked.
“There’s the error, simple really.”
“What is it?” Cot asked.
“A small alignment error really, it means the data transmissions coming through this thing aren’t calibrated correctly. Simple to fix, a few minutes and we’ll be done.”
“Get going will you, I’m not that great with heights.”
“Yet you volunteered for this mission?”
“Someone has to keep an eye on you.”
“Rachel could have done it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s just say I’m not sure I would have trusted her out here with you.”
“What are you saying?”
“It’s not in me to bad mouth my superior. But that stuff back on the island never sat well with me.”
“Pitting you and Lomax against each other. Sure she wants the best for her team but telling Lomax that his fitness wouldn’t matter, then firing him when he wasn’t mission ready, that was just cruel.”
“What are you talking about?”
“She chose you over Lomax, she sabotaged any chance he had of coming here, didn’t you know that?”
“Look kid, all I’m saying is be careful, she’s up to something and it involves you. I think it might be useful if I teach you how to fire a gun.” Cot’s words resonated inside of Daniel’s helmet. They hang around like a wasp stuck inside. Daniel continued with the work in silence. It didn’t take him long to finish. The two men descended the ladder and made their way inside, a job well done. Yet they never spoke again about Cot’s words of warning from on top of the ladder.
16:45 MTC, September 6th 2011
United States of America Base, Elysium Mons, Mars
In the previous year the intelligence had been coming in thick and fast. Suddenly the US base on Mars was able to stay one step ahead of the Weona Napl and what their plans were. Most of the intelligence coming through was biennial and unimportant, but occasionally there would be something of note, such as troop movements or details of some new technology that was of strategic importance to the native Martians. Suddenly the team had found themselves upgraded to larger offices in the heart of the US base. Their weekly meeting were being attended by the US commander and other senior officers. Daniel felt good about this new found acceptance, it meant that their plan was working. But all the time Cot was meeting the whole mission with a form of scepticism.
“Don’t get to comfortable.” Cot would tell the others as they sat in the office listening to the messages coming in. “This could all disappear tomorrow.”
“All the more reason to enjoy it.” Connor would reply with a wry smile on his lips. Suddenly the computer screens that dotted the outskirts of the room flickered into life. Everyone turned to see what was happening. “Looks like another garbled message.”
“That’s the tenth this week.” Cot noted.
“They are becoming more common.” Katlyne added before saying in almost a whisper. “It would be useful to know exactly what they were saying.”
“It’s out of range though.” Cot said. “That’s right isn’t it Daniel, these messages are out of range of our equipment, that’s why they come through so garbled. Shame we can’t read them.”
“I know how we could read them.” Daniel spoke whispering, hoping that no-one would hear him.
“How?” Cot asked.
“If we set up a new receiver 1250 miles north-north-east of here.” Daniel said before swallowing hard, relieved that after months of hiding the sums he had done he had finally had the courage to say it.
“That puts it about two hundred miles inside the Weona Napl territory.” Connor said.
“That’s right.” Daniel confirmed. “On top of Laamenoti Lowo to be precise, it’s the only place suitable on the entire planet.”
“Well there goes that plan then.” Connor said dismissively. “There’s no way we could get up there without being noticed.”
“Why not?” Cot asked.
“It’s sacred, like beyond sacred to them.” Connor replied excitedly. “Very few humans have ever been permitted to travel there, certainly none since the end of the war. Shame really it forms part of what we call Tharsis Montes.”
“We could still do it.” Rachel said calmly. She was standing in the doorway with her back resting against the frame. No one had noticed her before and Daniel wasn’t too sure when she had come in. “If we went in real stealth like.”
“That would be a mistake.” Connor spoke with a harsh tone in his voice, sounding genuinely scared by the prospect. “If we were caught then the diplomatic consequences would be dire.”
“But we wouldn’t be caught would we.” Rachel said softly, almost with a seductive tone in her voice, trying to lure the others into her plan. “What value would you put on the information we could learn?”
“In calculable.” Katlyne spoke with a quiet guilt. “That is to say we couldn’t know the value of something we don’t know exactly what it is, if we knew it then we would know how to value it of course that means placing a value on it to determine the suitability before acquiring the information.” Katlyne looked around. “I’m going to stop now before I babble.”
“Do we need that information?” Rachel asked the room. Everyone looked at each other guiltily, no one wanting to be the first to speak. Eventually it was Cot who broke the silence.
“You know we do.” Cot spoke sternly. “It could help us no end and our allies.” Cot looked around and saw that no one was contradicting him. “I’ll brief a squad team immediately.”
“No need.” Rachel said, standing up straight and smiling. “We’ll do it.” Everyone looked at each other nervously and shocked. They hadn’t expected to be sent out themselves.
“Rachel, may I have a word in private?” Cot asked through gritted teeth.
“No You may not.” Rachel dismissed him. “Come on it will be fun.”
“I’m not sure that it will be.” Cot replied.
06:45 MTC, October 24th 2011
United States of America Base, Elysium Mons, Mars
Six weeks had passed and now they were ready, strapped into a skimmer ready to go. Cot looked at the group. They had surprised him during training but it still didn’t feel right. This whole mission should be handled by US Special Forces, not a bunch of highly educated well-meaning civilians. There was a sense of unease to Cot. The approval for the mission was to easy, why did no-one try to stop this? Cot thought back to the meeting he had managed to arrange with Governor Mead in secret. The two had met when Mead had visited the US base covertly a few weeks ago. Cot could tell that Mead was uneasy about the mission as well, but it felt like he was being manipulated into accepting it. It had seen weird to Cot at first that Mead was so well read up on the mission, he had barely blinked when Cot revealed news about the secret listening station. Yet for all of Mead’s knowledge he seemed to lack control of the situation. Something was going on that neither man could stop.
Rachel looked over the crew of the skimmer. She had been pleased that they were already so quickly, not too much time wasted in training. She was sure that theses would be the right people for her to achieve the objectives that she needed too. She looked at all of them, dressed in their space suits ready to be launched out of the skimmer bay. She couldn’t help but smile at the nervous faces that were starring back at her. Everything would be fine, Rachel was sure about that.
Katlyne knew this wasn’t right. She knew that this had to be wrong. These were not the right people for the mission. She had tried to raise her concerns with Cot some weeks ago, but he had dismissed her. Telling her that there was no way they would pass training so not to worry about it. But they had passed and now they were sat ready to leave. She went over the upcoming mission in her mind. She kept thinking about all the things that were about to happen, the different possibilities for how this mission could go down, there was a chance they could get away with it. But only a slight chance.
Connor tried to close his eyes and focus. He wanted to sleep. It was the best way to get through being strapped into a skimmer. Connor hated to fly and avoided it wherever possible. He could feel his heart beating faster and faster. He could feel the bag of chemicals that was his body getting fuller of every chemical he didn’t want going around his system right now. He tried to concentrate, to make the panic subside and let the calm set in. But he couldn’t. Everything seemed wrong and right now he had too.
Daniel looked around the skimmer. Something wasn’t right and he couldn’t quite figure it out. This whole situation was weird and he wasn’t sure that this wasn’t still some sort of surreal dream. Daniel kept hoping that he would wake up soon, drawl running down his cheek, back in his dorm room at MIT, computer flickering with the data he had captured from the night before. Daniel knew though that this wasn’t a dream. He felt a jolt as the skimmer set off. Gently at first the skimmer started to move forward. Daniel felt the shudder and the skimmer lifted off of the surface. Daniel pushed his head round as best he could in the suit and strapped into his seat. He could see the US base slowly moving out of the window. The fine red dust being kicked up by the skimmers jet like engines. He looked on with sadness in his eyes, not able to shake the feeling that this whole thing was a mistake. One thought kept going over and over in his mind, would he see the base again. Daniel fiddled inside his space suit trying to adjust himself, searching for comfort. The whole space suit felt like it was designed for someone twice his size. No matter what he felt about the mission, they were on their way.
22:00 MTC, October 24th 2011
50km West of Tharsis Montes, Mars
“We can set down here for the night.” Rachel announced as she started to adjust the controls.
“Are you sure?” Cot asked, concerned by the announcement. “This area isn’t safe, we are inside the Weona Napl territory we should keep moving.”
“We’ll be fine.” Rachel exclaimed as she started to land the craft. She flicked the three switches to being down the landing structs, shut off the engines and they slowly descended onto the planet’s surface. “It’ll be good to rest up tonight, big day tomorrow, after all we have a mountain to climb.”
“I can pilot the skimmer, that was the original plan.” Cot offered. “We should stick to the plan.”
“We are making good time.” Rachel finished the post flight shut down before turning to smile to Cot. “We will be fine. Don’t forget Cot I’m the officer and I’m in charge.”
“I understand.” Cot said before leaning in to Rachel, hoping not to be heard by the others. “You should trust my combat experience from both here and Earth, I am telling you we should keep moving.”
“And I am telling you I am in charge.” Rachel responded. “Settle down everyone.” Rachel announced to the others in the skimmer. “Ration packs in the overhead lockers.”
“Aye mam.” Cot said under his breath.
“We’re staying here?” Connor asked. “I didn’t think that was the plan.”
“We need to be refreshed for tomorrow.” Rachel said.
“That’s a mistake.” Katlyne sounded concerned. “We should keep moving, staying here could only result in a higher chance of the Weona Napl discovering us.” Katlyne looked at Rachel directly. “This isn’t a good idea.”
“It will be fine.”
02:30 MTC, October 25th 2011
50km West of Tharsis Montes, Mars
Daniel awoke to the sound of rattling against the hull of the skimmer. He breathed heavily at first. Panic crossing his mind, his eyes darting from side to side, sweat starting to form on his forehead. Daniel tried to calm himself down. He took in the room. Katlyne was looking even more panicked then he was. Connor has huddled down in the skimmer, hiding below the seats. Cot was reaching over to the cockpit area of the skimmer, looking over the radar scanner screens. Rachel was trying to look out of the windows, searching the landscape.
“I can’t see anything.” Rachel announced.
“They’re hiding.” Daniel retorted. “They know this landscape better than us, they’ve lived here for thousands of years. It’s their planet remember.” Daniel flicked some switches, hoping to improve the imagining. He then looked around the cabin. “I’m going to send a distress signal.”
“Don’t we can handle it.” Rachel replied. “If you call for back up they’ll scrub the mission.”
“We need to defend ourselves.” Cot replied. “This thing doesn’t have any weaponry remember.”
“We’ll have to go outside.” Rachel looked at Cot directly in the eyes. “We need to fight these guys face to face.”
“They out number us and I don’t know if you’ve noticed at all but we don’t exactly have natural soldiers in here.”
“Me and you will go out.” Rachel said before lifting her head to talk to the others. “Helmets on everyone we are depressurising the cabin in thirty seconds.”
“Hang on.” Cot angrily shouted. “This is a bad plan.”
“Nonsense, you and I can fend off an attack by a small Weona Napl patrol, besides it’s probably just raiders.” Rachel dismissed Cot. She reached down under her seat and pulled out the helmet to her space suit. She put the helmet onto her suit and fastened it securely. Then Rachel looked around to see the others in the cabin. Cot had his helmet on already, now he was check with Katlyne to make sure she was safe, Daniel and Connor were both checking each other’s helmets. Rachel counted to ten in her head. “Ready everyone, here we go.” She said over the helmets intercom, the others able to hear her thanks to the network. Rachel then reached over and flicked two switches, the hatch way at the back of the skimmer opened all of the air rushed out. Cot immediately leaped forward, picking up his gun as he did so. Rachel launched herself forward as well, grabbing her gun as she made an exit. The pair emerged from the craft already firing, giving an opening burst of bullets from their assault rifles hoping to scare off the attacking Martians, although they both knew this wouldn’t work. They stood still for a moment, looked at each other and took in the scene.
“I’ll scout around the craft.” Cot offered over the intercom.
“I’ll look out here.” Rachel replied.
“Count the harpoon spears.” Connor shouted over the radio to the pair. “That will tell you how many are firing, they each fire one harpoon spear each and they will always fire it first.” Connor said a little more calmly over his radio. Cot started to move around the craft, side stepping as he went. He walked slowly and deliberate, trying not to rush and taking in the landscape. Cot was trying to take in every detail about what he could see before him, ever part of the landscape was his to examine. He looked on for every piece of movement, anything that could be a Weona Napl fighter, coming to get him. Cot had reached the front of the skimmer and still couldn’t see anything to be cautious of, nothing that would cause him alarm. He continued his journey, all the time looking at the horizon and then down at his feet, so far he had counted four harpoon spears, laying discarded on the ground. He had already known what Connor had said about the harpoon spears but had been grateful for the reminder. Cot didn’t understand the significance to the Weona Napl but he knew that they always fired the spears before firing their main weapon. These spears were about 12 inches in length, made from a hardened shiny metal that wasn’t unlike titanium, they sat on top of the Weona Napl gun and would always, always be fired first. They could cause damage, piece human skin and certainly cause a problem with a space suit. However Cot always feared the laser bullets more. Not technically lasers. The bullets would glow in the thin Martian atmosphere, burning as they flow through the air. Cot knew that these could do real damage to human skin, almost ignoring the thin space suit that would try to interrupt its journey. Cot made his way round to the side of the skimmer. He looked down and saw a sea of the harpoon spears waiting for him, and it scarred him.
“We have an army of them out here.” Cot yelled over the intercom radio. He was quickly joined by Rachel making her way from the rear of the skimmer. She immediately looked down on to the ground and saw the spears.
“We need help out here.” Rachel blurted into the intercom.
Inside the skimmer Katlyne was hyperventilating in her suit. Daniel looked at her and then thought for a moment before realising how dangerous this was. He grabbed her arm and looked at the readout on the display panel. He then throw down her arm before looking at the panel attached to his own suit. Katlyne had used up seven percent more oxygen then he had already. This was dangerous, it occurred to Daniel that this was one of the many ways of how people died on Mars. Daniel grabbed Katlyne by the shoulders and forced her to look at him directly in the eyes. He almost shook her as he tried to get her attention.
“You need to calm down.” Daniel said very softly over the radio. “You need to slow down your breathing and you need to concentrate on the sound of my voice.” Daniel put his head on hers. “Slow down Katlyne.” Daniel spoke in almost a whisper. “Just hear my voice and slow down.” He paused for a few moments before glancing a sideways look at the readout on her arm again, it looked like it was working but she wasn’t breathing normally just yet. “Katlyne remember you’re with people that want to keep you safe, people who are your friends. You are safe, you just need to slow down your breathing.” Daniel was trying to get himself and Katlyne into as calm and trance like state as he could and he knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it was slowly working. Daniels concentration was disturbed by the feeling of being knocked by Connor. Daniel couldn’t help but look up to see what had happened. Connor was leaning over the seats, trying to get to the controls. “What are you doing?” Daniel asked, trying not to break his and Katlyne’s concentration.
“There’s a Mayday button on the main control panel.” Connor replied, his voice sounding strained from the stretching he was doing. “If I can reach it help will come, there’s an MOA patrol not far from here, they can be here in twenty minutes.” Connor carried on reaching for the panel. Daniel tried hard to return to the state of concertation he had previously been in. “Got it.” Connor announced proudly before turning to see Katlyne and Daniel still embracing. “Is she alright?”
“I think so.” Daniel replied. He pulled his head away from Katlyne’s, looking her in the eye. She nodded before he checked the readout on her arm. “She’ll be ok.”
“We should get out there.” Connor added, moving back towards the rear of the skimmer, tapping Daniel on the shoulder as he moved. Connor picked up a discarded assault rifle, passing it to Daniel. “You ever used one of these?”
“Cot gave me a few lessons, can’t say I’m proficient in any way.” Daniel replied.
“By the sounds of it there’s so many targets out there you don’t need to be that accurate.” Connor picked up a rifle for himself.
“If you two are coming out here make it quick.” Cot’s voice crackled over the intercom, making Daniel suddenly realise that Cot and Rachel could hear everything they had said.
“We’re coming.” Connor replied. “Come on Daniel they need us out there.”
“Will you be ok?” Daniel turned and asked Katlyne.
“Go.” Katlyne nodded. “They need you out there.” Katlyne steadied herself against one of the seats and prepared to be left alone. Daniel rushed to the back of the skimmer before bursting out onto the Martian surface with Connor. The pair screamed as they ran out to be met with a hail of laser bullets and yet more harpoons flying towards them. Daniel fired quickly, running towards Rachel and Cot. He crouched down beside them firing his assault rifle. It took him a few moments to get used to the idea that he was firing at living creatures, aliens even. The bullets poured out of his gun, light flicked from the end of the rifle. Suddenly Daniel realised he was on his back. He was looking up at the red tainted sky. His gun had dropped to his side. The next thing he realised he was moving, backwards but he could still see Cot, Rachel and Connor. Then it dawned on him, he had been hit in the helmet and Katlyne had come outside to drag him in. Then Daniel slipped into unconsciousness.
12:00 MTC, October 27th 2011
United States of America Base, Elysium Mons, Mars
Daniel was still trying to catch his breath. The past few hours had be extraordinary. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the bright lights which seemed to be surrounding him. He blinked a few times, hoping to make his eyes adjust quicker. Daniel could just about make out a figure standing over him.
“You alright kid?” The figures voice asked. Daniel recognised it as Cot’s instantly.
“Where am I?” Daniel asked, realising for the first time that he was lying on a bed.
“You’re safe, we’re back on base.” Cot replied, putting his hands on Daniel’s shoulders. “You need to stay down for a minute.” Cot said quietly before yelling. “Doctor he’s awake.” A doctor appeared and started messing with Daniel, prodding and poking at him before the doctor turned to Cot.
“He’s going to be fine, we need to keep him here for a day or two.” The doctor said before leaving.
“You hear that kid, you’re going to be fine.” Cot said, Daniel suspected with a smile although he couldn’t make it out.
“I want to sit up.” Daniel muttered before trying to sit up again. This time Cot helped him rather than hindered. Cot held Daniel’s hand as he lifted and twisted his body. Daniel placed his hands on the bed and steadied himself. “I feel dizzy.” Daniel said with a confused tone in his voice.
“That’s only natural with what you have been through.” Cot took a half step back, hoping that Daniel could support himself. “We’ll have you out of here soon.”
“What happened?” Daniel asked.
“Just rest up, we’ll get to that soon.” Cot responded.
“Cot I want to know.” Daniel gave a forceful tone, his eyes fixed on Cot, hoping he could intimidate the man stood before him. “What happened?”
“After you were knocked out the rescue team arrived.” Cot started to explain. “there was another firefight, but we got out.”
“All of us?” Daniel asked.
“No.” Cot tried to look away, hoping he wouldn’t have to give all of the details. He knew though that he would have to tell Daniel and in doing so admit the truth to himself. “Connor didn’t make it.” Cot took a deep breath. “He took a harpoon spear to the chest, it punctured his suit and he was killed.” Cot thought for a moment, letting the news sink in. “If it’s of any help they ensure me that he died instantly.”
“Does it help you?”
“Not really no.”
“Then don’t say stupid things.” Daniel snapped angrily. “Tell me one thing and promise me you’ll tell me the truth.”
“I promise.” Cot replied, curious as to what Daniel wanted.
“Should we have been on that mission in the first place?” Daniel asked, locking eyes with Cot once again.
“In my opinion no.” Cot admitted. “I can’t believe it got as far as it did. But that squad was not fit for the work we were trying to do.”
“Then who’s fault is it Cot. I know you tried to stop the mission before it started, I know about the secret meeting with Mead.”
“I don’t know whose fault it is, but I know how they did it.”
“Make them pay.”
21:00 MTC, October 28th 2011
United States of America Base, Elysium Mons, Mars
Rachel walked into her quarters and switched on the lights. Startled. Cot was already sitting in a chair facing the door.
“What are you doing here?” Rachel asked, terrified as she spoke.
“I really liked Connor you know.” Cot spoke as if trying to hold back the anger in his voice. “He was funny and I liked him.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“And I know he could be a bit of an ass at times but he worked hard and he cared about what he was doing here and he believed in the mission.”
“We all do.”
“I am trying very hard not to get angry.” Cot spoke softly with an eerie calmness. “Connor didn’t deserve to die out there.”
“It was an accident.”
“You see I don’t think it was.” Cot paused for a moment. “Why did you have him killed?”
“What are you saying Cot?”
“Something’s been bothering me since you got here, I couldn’t figure it out at first but then it dawned on me. You see I’ve worked with lazy commanders, incompetent commanders and out of their depth commanders but you’re none of those.” Cot rose from his seat, he stood directly in front of Rachel. “You’re professionally incompetent, making the wrong decisions on purpose since you got this mission.”
“What precisely are you accusing me of?” Rachel asked.
“I think we have a saboteur in our midst and I think it is you.” Cot starred at Rachel.
“I think I have something stuck in my teeth.” Rachel put her hand up to her mouth. Cot grabbed her wrist.
“We know about the cyanide capsule. We know what your escape plan is.” Cot opened the door behind Rachel. There stood three military guards, Daniel and Katlyne.
“Is it true.” Daniel asked.
“Look I can explain.”
“Don’t bother.” Daniel said before turning and walking off.
“I can’t believe I didn’t account for this.” Katlyne said, shaking her head in disbelief. “It seems so obvious now.” Katlyne grabbed Rachel’s arm. “You’re working for them aren’t you, back on Earth. You’re working for them.”
“I will not talk.” Rachel barked angrily.
“Statistically unlikely.” Katlyne replied before Rachel was dragged away by the guards.
17:00 MTC, November 5th 2011
United States of America Base, Elysium Mons, Mars
Rachel stood and waited to hear her fate. She didn’t really need to be told what was going to happen to her now. She knew where this was leading, where it was always going to lead her. This path only had one possible destination. The head of the court cleared his throat.
“You have been found guilty of treason, espionage and sabotage.” The head of the court’s deep voice commanded respect as he spoke and delivered his verdict. “What’s worse you put in danger the lives of your team, those who trusted and respected you. These are truly unforgivable crimes.” The head of the court looked around the room. Only those of the highest clearance were permitted to be here. The rest of her team, the commanders of each of the bases and even Governor Mead, the head of the central base. “For our joint mission on Mars to succeed deeds such as yours cannot go un-punished. It is therefore my sad duty to pass sentence. Before I do however the representative of your country may make a statement. Anything you wish to say Commander Smythe?” The head of the court turned to one of the figures sitting at the side of the room, an older gentlemen whose hair was starting to grey at the side.
“Thank you sir.” Smythe spoke solemnly as he rose from his seat. “The government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland do not recognise this woman as a citizen and she has never served in any branch of our armed forces. Therefore I cannot in good consciousness offer any comments at this time.” Smythe sat back down.
“Very well.” The head of the court made a note in the book open before him. “Governor Mead, do you wish to add anything at this time.” Mead just shook his head. “Very well. It is the judgment of this court that crimes such as yours must face the most severe of punishments. You will be taken from this place and shot until the body is dead dead dead.”
Rachel collapsed into her seat. She knew that this was where she was heading but it was still a shock to her. Her arms were picked up by two guards and she was dragged back to her cell. The lights were switched off and she just sat there. Contemplating her fate and the decisions she had made to bring her here. Had it all been a mistake. Was she on the wrong side. It had seemed so simple when she had been first approached all those years ago, like there was no choice to make. But now sitting in this cold cell with gratings for floor it seemed a lot more complicated. It seemed to Rachel that maybe there was a choice to be made after all. Suddenly the door opened. Daniel walked into the cell.
“Why?” Daniel asked.
“Why what?” Rachel replied.
“Don’t mess with me.”
“Tomorrow I die what do you think you could to me I?”
“I can make tonight drag, I can make you sit here and ponder your fate all night long.” Daniel crouched down so he was speaking directly into her ear. “Now tell me why?”
“How did the MOA bribe you into coming here, everyone has a price?”
“My sister, they offered her treatment if I came.”
“Is there nothing you wouldn’t do for her?”
“I have someone I love that much, only what I was asked to do wasn’t as wholesome as yours.” Rachel said. Daniel rose from his position and headed back towards the door. “Don’t you trust me. I am a good person you know.” Daniel stopped and turned.
“Tell that to Lomax.” Daniel turned and left the room.
Rachel couldn’t sleep. She knew what tomorrow would bring and wasn’t in any rush to make it come quicker. Eventually the door opened and in walked to guards. Behind them Cot was standing with a stern yet strangely sympathetically looking frown on his face.
“Are you ready?” Cot asked.
“Is this it?” Rachel replied with a question as she forced herself to stand up.
“I’m afraid so.” Cot replied. “Do you have any last words?”
“Is there any point?” Rachel looked down at the floor. “I will say this, they are coming Cot. The people who made me do this thing that you despise me for. The Ghost Squad are coming and they don’t give a damn about this place or about making peace with the Martians.”
In the build up to the release of the Mars Encounter novel J.J. Wright wrote several short stories published on the Half A Cup Of Coffee website. This release allows us to publish these stories for the first time in a single volume. They can be read as stand alone stories or in conjunction with the main novel. Most of the stories are ‘what happened first’ or the ‘scene behind the scene’. You could see them as being deleted scenes, separate from the main novel. This collection of stories works almost like a deleted scenes or sneak peaks do with TV shows and movies.
Although they have been released in a particular order there is no need to read them in this order. All six stories of the stories here were released before 6th May 2017 when Mars Encounter was launched on Shakespir, iBooks and other ebook retailers.
In writing Mars Encounter there were certain characters and back stories that I wanted explore in more detail. The prequel stories gave me the opportunity to do so and hopefully they will give you the reader more insight in the characters and events behind the Mars Encounter novel and cannon. I hope you enjoy these stories and if you haven’t read the main novel yet then don’t forget to check it out.
This first short story is set some time before the main novel. It is almost a preface of the preface of the main story. This story focus’ on the Apollo 8 astronauts who receive a mysterious briefing before their mission to go to the other side of the moon.
This second short story is set just a few years before the main novel. The action moves to Mars where humans are living and working. This story takes place on the British base and is a conversation between two people trying to find a solution to nightmares a little girl is having. They have to find a way of treating her without letting anyone on Earth know that there are humans living on Mars.
For the third story we return to Mars where much of the action takes place through out the main novel. We are once again on the British base where they are try to decrypt some stone tablets left behind by the ancient native Martians.
The third short story is more of a deleted scene then a prequel. It follows a character called Sirus who is on the run from the government agencies that are trying to keep mans presence on Mars a secret. Here she is trying to buy a false identity so that she can keep her past life secret.
For the fourth short story the action moves back to Earth. In writing the novel Mars Encounters there were certain characters that just spoke to me. The Prequel Stories gave me an opportunity to explore some of the characters that only feature momentarily in the novel but who seemed to jump off the page when I was writing. Philips is one such character and someone who I found fascinating. His experience of the secret of Mars is quite different to that of the other characters.
The sixth and last of the Prequel Stories is very much a prequel to the main novel taking place the night before two of the main characters meet. Again it features Philips and one other character who is in the main novel.
If you enjoy these stories then don’t forget to download the main novel to read more.
21:45 EST, November 15th 1968
Training Room, Astronaut Training Centre, Houston, Texas
A Long day was about to get even longer. The six men, military one and all, were sitting waiting for yet another briefing to start.
“I thought we were supposed to go home soon.” One of the six men spoke up. The others all just stared at him. This outburst was unusual for an astronaut. They were more than just well-disciplined fighter pilots, they were super men, chosen specifically because they could handle these long hours and endless briefings. It was six-weeks before three of the men would get the opportunity to go to where no man had ever been to before, the moon. As the launch got closer and closer they all found themselves dreaming as they looked up to the night sky and saw that brilliant white disc, almost calling to them ‘come on’.
“What is this briefing anyway?” One of the men asked. “It’s not on any of the training schedules.” He looked down at the mounds of paper each man carried around with him. Training manuals, briefing documents, schedules everything that detailed every possible aspect of their lives.
“It’s special.” A voice from the back said. “Not on the books.” The man added. He was not one of the astronauts, but a tall dark haired man. He wore the white shirt and black skinny tie which was common enough among NASA employees. The black trousers and impossibly shiny black shoes were not out of place either. The mirrored sunglasses he wore, despite being inside, were a little bit more unusual. “This briefing is for prime crew only, sorry back up you’ll have to leave.”
The six astronauts all looked at each other. This was getting stranger and stranger by the minute. They always trained together, that was the whole point of having prime and back up crews. Despite their concerns they knew not to question weird things. This whole mission was weird. It was supposed to be just another mission around the Earth’s orbit, but had been changed six months earlier to now being a lunar flight. None of the men knew why this had happened, there had been rumours of a soviet lunar rocket ready to go but nothing substantial. Once the backup crew had left the man in the white shirt was ready to talk again.
“This is a top secret briefing, for your eyes only.” The man spoke as he walked towards the front of the class room. “There is to be no note taking and no documentation regarding this briefing of any kind.” He turned to face the three vacant looking faces which were staring back at him. “Disclosure of what I’m about to tell you will cause a forfeit of your life, you understand.” The three men continued to look vacant. The day had been long enough, one of several long days they had to endure, it was possible that this man was in fact some sort of mass hallucination.
“Who are you?” One of them asked.
“That’s not important.” The man in the white shirt replied. “I represent an organisation that you have never heard of.” He faked a smile. “If anyone asks tell them I work for PR here at NASA.” He sat on the edge of the desk which was in the front of the class room. “When you travel around the dark side of the moon.” The man took a deep breath at this point, he knew that once he said what he was going to say there would be no going back. “When you travel around the dark side of the moon we have reason to believe that you may be contacted by alien life.”
“WHAT!” All three men could help but yell out. They then all started laughing in unison.
“Pete Conrad put you up to this didn’t he?” One of the men asked, assuming that this was all a joke devised by his old friend who was known for pulling jokes.
“This is no joke gentlemen.” The man in the white shirt replied. “We have reason to believe that an intelligence not of this Earth has a probe on the dark side of the moon.” He paused to let what he was saying sink in a minute. “I know it seems strange but there you have it.” The man in the white shirt gave the three men another moment. “Obviously I can’t go into any of the details but all I can say is that this has come from the very top. The guys from New Mexico are very excited about this possibility. It could just be nothing but we believe that there is a probe on the dark side of the moon put there by an intelligence not of the Earth.”
“This is starting to sound a little 2001.” One of the men spoke.
“It might seem that way.” The man in the white shirt smiled. “All we are asking is that if you do hear a message or see anything which you feel I might be interested in then please record it.” The man looked at the astronauts again. “This is top secret. You must not tell anyone. The people of Earth are not ready for this. We aren’t looking to cause wide spread panic here.” The man in the white shirt started to walk back towards the door. Before he exited he turned back to face the astronauts. “If you do see or hear anything while on the dark side then please use a coded message.”
“What do you suggest?” One of the astronauts asked sarcastically. Just before the man in the white shirt left the room he replied.
“Let there be light.”
16:00 MTC, March 13 2012
Control Room, British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars
“I can’t do it.” Dr Richards felt uneasy about admitting the truth. He was a man who had prided himself on being able to achieve anything he set his mind too. This however was beyond even his skills. “We need a specialist.”
“I thought you were the specialist.” Commander Smythe replied in a stern manner, not a tone he took regularly but one that he had the mastery of whenever he needed it. “That’s what you keep telling us anyway.” Smythe looked around the control room and saw the various technicians and computer operators all smirking, hoping not to be seen. Smythe realised he had had his fun, it was time to treat the matter seriously. “What help do you need Doctor?”
“A dedicated child psychiatrist, one with some experience of sleeping disorders.” Dr Richards knew it was a big ask. Few humans made it Mars, those that did were only those few that provide exceptional skills and expertise, those few that really mattered.
“There are only twenty-six human children on the entire planet.” Smythe took a deep breath, if it was up to him then Dr Richards would get all the help he needed. But Smythe knew that there was no point putting in the request unless there was a chance of getting it fulfilled and this had none. Sometimes to be to good guy you had to pretend to be the bad guy.
“I know how many children there are.” Dr Richards snapped before trying to calm himself down. “I’ve examined them all.”
“They are not going to permit a child psychiatrist to care for the needs of only twenty-six children. It is unrealistic. Besides this problem is only effecting one girl.” Smythe thought for a moment, trying to find a compromise. “How about face time with a leading expert in this field?” Smythe thought for a moment. “A video conference call with the leading doctor in this field.”
“Can we arrange that?” Dr Richards had never heard of anyone on Mars being allowed to contact the Earth except for the Commanders of each base and the Governor but those were planned monthly discussions.
“It happens from time to time.” Smythe looked around. “When we need expert help but can’t have it brought here.” Smythe returned to looking at Dr Richards. “You can give them as much details as you need. However you may not disclose where the patient is, how her parents died or that she was the first human to be born on Mars.”
“That is every relevant fact to this case.” Richards replied, already frustrated by what he was being told.
“Other children have been born on this planet and do not suffer the same condition that poor Nina does.” Smythe replied angrily, refusing to accept that the statistical anomaly of her place of birth was the cause for her condition.
“That doesn’t mean…”
“Can you get a suitable diagnosis without revealing those pieces of information?” Smythe asked, hoping it would be enough.
“No.” Dr Richards hoped he was proving a point but knew he was conceding one.
“Then you will not be granted any Earthly assistance in this matter.” Smythe smiled, he didn’t want to be the one making this decision, Nina was precious to him as she was to everyone on Mars, but he couldn’t except the security risk. “Do what you can to help her?”
“Night terrors can be a very tricky thing. We need to find the source of them.”
“Dr, she’s living on an alien planet, both her parents died in horrific ways, I think that’s enough of a cause for night terrors, don’t you?”
“It’s more than that.” Dr Richards said as he headed towards the door, knowing that he had lost the argument. “It’s almost like its imbedded in her DNA.” His head dropped down momentarily. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Smythe knew that was a hard admission for the doctor to make, one which showed the seriousness of the situation.
“I suppose.” Smythe started to say quietly. “I suppose we just have to wait and see if it passes on its own.” Smythe knew it wouldn’t but hoped it would. “Maybe she’ll grow out of it someday.”
“And in the meantime?” Richards asked, genuinely unsure what to do next.
“Do what you can for her I guess, and pray this condition doesn’t effect anyone else.” Smythe spoke softly before turning back to his desk and continuing with his work, hoping that the problem would one day sort itself out, knowing that if it hadn’t done by now it would be unlikely that it ever would.
05:00 MTC, November 19th 2015
Archaeological Research Lab, British Base, Olympus Mons, Mars
Christian knew he was in trouble. Only three hours left until he had to show his results and he didn’t have any, this is what trouble looked like. His fifteenth cup of Degi bean coffee hadn’t helped inspire him as much as he hoped it would. He looked over the stone tablets again. They seemed to convey a message from the ancient Martian race but he couldn’t figure out what that message was or even why it was so cryptic. Christian was an expert on the ancient Martians known as the Wivisan race. He was one of the few human experts in existence in fact but even he couldn’t work out the meaning of these stone tablets and that was where the problem truly lied. Christian had assured the Governor of Mars and the base commander that he would be able to solve the mystery of the stone tablets and unlock the secrets that they held. Christian knew that if he couldn’t figure out the truth then he was in trouble and would have to face the consequences. That was a thought that he didn’t want to enter his head right now. Christian put down the cup of Degi beans and picked up on of the many text books that he had laying around discarded on the desk. He studied the opened page praying for a drop of inspiration, some sort of insight that would allow him to continue past his deadline if not solve the problem entirely.
“How’s it going?” A voice can from the door way. It was that of Commander Smythe, the man in charge of the base and the man that Christian would have to report to in a little under three hours’ time.
“Making progress.” Christian replied, hoping that his enthusiastic sounding reply would be enough to convince the commander.
“Really?” Smythe replied sceptically. He walked into the lab from the door way and looked down at the piles of books and notepads which were left unorderly and in a panic. “Looks like you’re still stuck to me.”
“It’s slow work.” Christian emphasised.
“I know it can be slow work but you are expected to give a full report in just three hours.” Smythe was concerned, he knew what would happen if Christian couldn’t complete his task on time. “Have you got enough to go on for now?” Smythe was looking for any ray of hope.
“No.” Christian took a deep breath in. “Nothing new really.”
“Well.” Smythe spoke heading for the doorway. “Maybe Governor Mead will be in a good mood, or at least a forgiving one.”
“What will happen if he isn’t?” Christian asked cautiously, hoping that he wouldn’t get the answer that he was expecting.
“Are you any closer to unlocking any of these secrets?” Smythe asked whilst examining the tablets hoping that his own experience might uncover something.
“Not yet.” Christian answered, noting that his own question had gone unanswered.
“Well then.” Smythe said looking at Christian. “It’s a shame that this unit will be closed down, I quite liked having an Archaeological Unit back on the base, it had been a while.” Smythe walked over to the Degi coffee pot in the corner of the room. “May I?” Smythe asked, he didn’t wait for an answer and poured himself a cup.
“What will happen to me sir?” Christian asked.
“Well most of the other bases have archaeological units.” Smythe said. “I’ll put in a request for one of them to take you.” Smythe sipped his Degi. “Mmmm that is delicious.”
“Are they likely to accept?”
“Well the Americans are fully manned at the moment, unlikely to take you I’m afraid.” Smythe thought for a moment. “They really would have been the most suitable. Of course they weren’t too pleased when you managed to get those tablets brought here instead of them having a go at them.” Smythe continue to think on the problem. “The Chinese don’t really like foreigners working on their base, I’m not sure they can be persuaded to take you either.” Smythe knew they were running out of options. “Central is a possibility, but Mead doesn’t like to take what he calls intellectual refugees, he thinks it makes him look weak so you won’t be joining the international community there.” Mead knew that only left one option. “The Soviet base is out of the question I’m afraid. They still don’t like people that have arrived since 1990, to much news from back home. It seems petty but they won’t be budged on this.”
“That only means.” Christian spoke softly.
“Re-assignment back to Earth, your memories of this place will be wiped and most likely you’ll be left on the streets somewhere with no idea of who you are or where you have been.” Smythe had had to give this option to people before, he never grew used to it.
“Can I be executed instead sir?”
“Let’s not worry about such things, we might get lucky.”
“I heard there was no such thing as re-assignment to Earth, it was just a story.”
“It does exist I’m afraid.” Smythe dropped his head momentarily. “I’ve read the reports. They can be horrifying.” Smythe started to walk towards the door. “You still have three hours, maybe you’ll find something, we don’t want Mead to close down this unit after we’ve only just managed to get it re-opened.”
23:45 EST, March 19th 2006
Office of Identity Inc. Boston, United States, Earth
Sirus knew what she was doing was against the law, but she had to do it anyway. It wasn’t much of a choice, everything about her was illegal. She had travel sixteen hours to be here and the truth was she would have travelled further if she had too. Sirus had always believed in going to see the best. It didn’t matter if it was the best Doctor, the best accountant or the best hairdresser. If you wanted quality then you had to travel for it and more importantly you had to pay top dollar. Buying a fake identity was no different. There was no point in trying to save a few bucks just to be let down in the future. She sat and waited. The room was just like any other waiting room she had ever been in. Some old discarded magazines sat on a central table, unloved and unwanted. Some uncomfortable looking chairs were dotted around the edge of the room. Eventually the others in the room were called and would go through to the office, never to be seen again. Now there was just Sirus and a man sitting there waiting. The man looked familiar to her though, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had seen him somewhere before and in this place, that could be dangerous.
“Jume.” Sirus said quietly but loud enough for her to be sure that the man could hear. It had been a while since she had used any of her Martian language skills, she wasn’t even sure which dialect it was but she knew it was a real world.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand you.” The man said before smiling at her sympathetically. He then went back to staring at the wall.
“You see now we have a problem.” Sirus said, still looking at the man who refused to make eye contact with her. “You see most people when they hear a Martian word they just assume its Eastern European or Asian.” Sirus thought for a moment. “They try to make themselves understood and they never speak in clear conversation English. You however knew that word wasn’t from this planet didn’t you Jonathan Dale.” It only came to Sirus a split second before she said it but this man was Jonathan Dale, she remembered seeing his wanted posters on the Island. The man looked full of fear and panic. Had he been caught?
“I don’t know that name.” The man said before returning to his staring at the wall, his neck muscles almost exploding with the strain of focus.
“Of course, you don’t know that name.” Sirus thought for moment. “You must have had dozens since you used that one.”
“Seeing as where we are I don’t think either one of us is really in a position to criticise the others life choices.” The man snapped. He then thought for a moment before adding. “Are you a recruiter?”
“What?” Sirus asked.
“Are you a recruiter?” The man smiled, for the first time in the conversation he had the upper hand. “If you’ve been on the run for a while then surely you’ve realise that the recruiters job is to protect the secret, that’s why they recruit when they have to but don’t forget every single one of them is some form of assassin.”
“I was a Zeppelin class pilot.” Sirus said, acknowledging that she would have to reveal more about herself then she was comfortable. “I made a mistake but managed to escape.”
“Captain Jennifer Sirus.” The man said, pleased with himself. “See I know your name too.” The man smiled a broad smile that showed that he was confident. “You did more than make a mistake, you got a man killed, allowing a Weona Napl Martian warrior on Earth like that.”
“How do you know about it? It was years after you left the programme.”
“You hear things every now and then, it’s part of staying one step ahead.”
“Have you heard about the war?” Sirus asked, curious for the most up-to-date news.
“No.” The man conceded.
“What about the French base?” Sirus asked, she hadn’t heard anything in a while.
“No.” The man said again. It was obvious that not being informed was troubling him.
“If you don’t mind me asking.” Sirus’ curiosity was getting the better of her. “Why did you leave?”
“My son.” The man replied. “My son is very sick, he has a form of Autism, he’s confined to a wheel chair most of the time.” The man spoke with a tear forming in his eye. “He was born after I went to the Island. I got word my wife wasn’t doing so well.”
“But to go out in the way that you did.” Sirus said.
“I know what I did.” The man interrupted her. “It’s not something that I’m proud of but my wife and son needed me, so here I am.” The man got up from his chair, walked over and sat down next to Sirus. She was scared for a moment. After what this man had done he was not someone that she would want near her. “If you’re here then you’ve met someone.” The man said very quietly. “You wouldn’t go to this expense if you were planning on skipping town in a couple of days. My suspicion is you’ve fallen for someone, someone who doesn’t know about Mars or the Haissisut or the Weona Napl or what you did.” The man paused for a moment. The silence was all the confirmation he was going to get, it was all he needed, he was right. “Look I have to stay still, we move every few years but with my son it is a nightmare.” The man knew his next words would be the hardest for her to hear. “He can’t ever know the truth. If you stay with him then his life is in danger, keep moving, keep running.”
“A real life has worked for you.” She said.
“Not really.” The man replied. “Besides my time is coming. Eventually the Martian Operations Agency will catch up with me and they will kill me.” The man thought for a moment. “My wife too in all probability.” The man looked like he was thinking about this for a moment, his mind dwelling on things he was trying hard not the think about. “I have faith though that they will make sure my son is looked after. If I get Philips maybe, he’s a fair man. Not all of the recruiters are monsters.” Then the man just sat in silence. After about 15 minutes he was called and he stood up to go through the door. “Please run, I think you’re a good person but you’re being greedy thinking you’ll be able to have a normal life. Just run.” The man left. Sirus thought for a moment, she couldn’t run but she knew that they would be coming for her soon too. If she could only find a way of finding out that man’s new identity, maybe she could use it to bargain for her life. He had seemed like such a good loving man, but in this life Sirus knew that would make him weak, maybe she could exploit that.
22:45 EST, March 11th 2017
1st Class Cabin, Air America Flight to Washington DC
Philips looked at the file again. Another mission successfully accomplished. He hadn’t known the man he had just met for long but Philips felt that the two men had known each other their entire life. Philips had liked the man he had just met, a jazz fan with a young family who had completed his PhD on geophysics at such a young age. Philips had found him charming and charismatic and all the things he wanted the man to be. Philips had felt it was a real shame that he had to kill him. Captain Philips’ task in life had not been an easy one at the best of times. Often the people who he briefed would become distressed and uncooperative, it was Philips’ role to end their hostile nature to what they had just been told. Philips had planned for such an eventuality, having a plan B ready to put into action was something he had learnt to do in this job. Usually he would allow them a few hours to put their affairs in order but on this occasion Philips had felt that that was too cruel. Instead he had decided to end this poor man’s life quickly. A fake suicide was a common enough method, putting lipstick on him and planting the fake ID so it looked like had been living as a woman secretly was Philips’ own little touch. Philips knew that it would be enough to put the police off from investigating to deeply. It would also help the man’s widow to move on quickly, it was less painful all round. Philips leant back in his first-class seat and closed his eyes. It had been a long but fairly routine assignment and he was looking forward to a few days of rest and relaxation in Washington DC. It wasn’t often that he got to go back to the city which was essentially his home, Philips had given up his apartment there years ago instead choosing to go from hotel to hotel room. The various agencies he worked for preferred it that way with no complications. Philips sensed someone was near him, he opened his eyes to see the stewardess putting a blanket over him.
“Sorry I didn’t mean to disturb you.” The stewardess said softly before smiling sweetly at him.
“That’s quite alright.” Philips replied. “I wasn’t really sleeping anyway.”
“You’ve flown with me before haven’t you?” The stewardess asked.
“Probably, I fly a lot in my line of work.”
“And what is it you do?” She asked
“I’m a head hunter.” Philips replied. It was essentially true after all. Philips had long since discovered that when lying it was best to keep to the truth.
“Well I’ll leave you to your nap now.” The stewardess smiled again before returning to her work. As she walked away Philips couldn’t help but notice her walk. He knew of others who did his job that would try at the very least to get her number. But a mildly-unsatisfactory fling with a random air hostess wouldn’t be of much comfort to Philips for long. Questions about his job and lifestyle would arise sooner or later, those questions would always be a little hard to dismiss. Not many people really understood a man that could do what Philips did. To Philips however it was the most fascinating career he could imagine. He got to fly around the world seeing wonderful places and getting to meet people who he found fascinating. And for those people Philips was their first step into a wonderful adventure that only the fool-hardy would have dreamt of. To Philips it was worth while work. On average once a month he would meet someone who was the absolutely best in their particular field of study. Soldiers, engineers, doctors, geologists, physicist’s, chemists, archaeologists and even logisticians were just some of the people Philips had met in the last sixteen years. With most of these great minds he had indulged in a game of chess often winning.
The familiar ding of the seat belt on light filled the cabin momentarily. Philips opened his eyes. Several hours had passed since the air hostess had given him the blanket. Quickly Philips acclimatised to his surroundings and readied himself for landing. The plane soon landed and taxied up to the gangway. Philips remained in his seat, letting the person who had been sitting next to him walk past. Philips always waited to be the last one to leave the plan. After looking around to check that no-one else was on board Philips rose from his seat and casually walked off the plane and through the terminal. After a few minutes of walking Philips arrived at the que for passport control. The line was long, full of his fellow passengers who had all rushed to join it. Philips smiled. A tall non-descript man in a plain black suit white shirt and black tie walked up to Philips immediately.
“Please step this way sir.” The man said.
“Certainly.” Philips replied before the man walked him to the front of the que and past the passport check. Philips couldn’t help but smile as out of the corner of his eye he spotted all of those passengers who were jealous of him. Once past the checkpoint the man turned to Philips.
“Must we do this every time you come to Washington?” The man asked.
“It’s not just when I come here, I do it every time.”
“Yes you have diplomatic immunity but do you have to show off.” The man added in frustration. “Everything about your life is supposed to be a secret don’t forget.”
“True, but this is the only bit of showing off I get to do.” Philips smiled. “I enjoy it.”
“Any way you need to cancel your plans.”
“Am I flying out again?” Philips asked, surprised that he was being given a new assignment so quickly.
“Our friends in London have asked for you specifically.” The man replied. “The Scotsman asked for you by name, said you owed him one.”
“Welsh.” Philips said, taking the file from the man’s hand. Philips opened the file and started to read it.
“What?” The man asked, confused.
“He’s Welsh not Scottish.” Philips looked up from his reading. “They get very uppity about these things.”
“Scottish, Welsh, what’s the difference?” The man asked, not sure why this minor detail was taking over the conversation.
“None what’s so ever, they both hate the English.” Philips went back to his reading. It seemed to be the usual stuff, nothing that would require his specific attention. “A difficult candidate?” Philips asked, knowing that it was the only possible explanation for his involvement.
“Something to do with an exam question, I don’t really know the full details.” The man said. “I thing they want you over there for quite a while.”
One Night In An Office
21:45 GMT, March 15th 2017
MI7 Headquarters, London, United Kingdom
Night-time was always the best time to do these deeds. Philips walked into the office looking around as he did so. Zed, a bolding middle aged Welshman was sitting behind the large desk. Papers scattered the desk, but in an organised fashion. This office could have been any one of thousands dotted across the city. This could have been any company, with any middle manager calling in his number two for a briefing before giving him his orders. However, both men knew that no matter how non-descript the occasion was their jobs were anything but regular. For them both it was an ordinary meeting on an ordinary subject, but in most offices, this wouldn’t be a mundane conversation. Few meetings involved a kill order being given.
“Evening Zed.” Philips spoke first, his soft American accent certainly wouldn’t be that unfamiliar in this part of London. The greeting hanging in the air, still and lonely.
“Evening Captain Philips.” Zed replied, after having allowed a whole thirty seconds to pass. He looked up, viewing Philips as he stood in front of the desk. The two men were as close to friends as they could be in their profession, the secret they both shared didn’t lend itself well to having friends. “How are you?” Zed asked, not really caring about the answer but feeling it was important to follow the niceties of life.
“Well, thank you.” Philips replied. “And yourself?” Philips felt obliged to ask but knew too well that neither men really felt comfortable with this sort of small talk.
“Good point, let’s just get on with it shall we.” Zed handed a file over to Philips. “A standard reveal and recruit mission for you Philips.” Philips picked up the file and looked at the pages within.
“I’m assuming the file I was given in Washington was false.” Philips asked.
“Correct.” Zed said proudly. “We couldn’t have your employers knowing what we really intended you for.” Zed nodded to the file Philips was already reading. “It’s all completely standard though, I assure you.”
“Only it isn’t, is it?” Philips replied. “This is far from a standard reveal and recruit.” Philips held up the photograph from the file, that of a young man. “He’s only 16.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Zed admitted. “Looks like your hunch on question thirteen was right. He solved it.”
“I knew he would be able too.” Philips smiled to himself, remembering how Zed had argued with him about putting the question in the exam paper to begin with. “How much do I tell him?”
“Just the usual.” Zed replied, not sure why Philips had asked this question. He had done hundreds of these sorts of missions and had never needed clarity before. “Why would it be any different?”
“I guess it might be because he’s sixteen, or it might be because of who he is.” Philips replied.
“Irrelevant.” Zed almost shouted his point. “On both points.” He added, a little quieter.
“If he refuses to come?” Philips asked.
“Try not to reveal to much until he’s committed.” Zed sighed. “If we don’t use him then he could still be useful to Her Majesty’s Government in other ways later down the line. It would be a shame if you were to waste this boy’s talents.”
“By killing him.” Philips clarified. “It would be a shame if I had to kill a sixteen-year-old boy before your government could use his gifts for your own purposes you mean.”
“Well it would be.”
“Have you seen what it says here about his mother?” Philips asked, surprised by the boys background.
“Stick to the script Captain, I thought that was what you Marines were good at.” Zed then looked down and carried on with his work.
“Drug use, living on the game, in and out of doss houses.” Philips was still reading from the file.
“That was his mother, not him, it has no relevance here.” Zed said through gritted teeth.
“But what Captain?”
“Nothing, sir.” Philips snapped out of it. If Zed was happy with what was in the file then he knew he should be too. “I’ll meet with him tomorrow.”
“Maths genius this one.” Zed looked up from his work. “Will you be playing the boy at chess?”
“Not this time.” Philips closed the file, he had read enough. “Would love to but chess is better suited to when the candidate has a choice, he doesn’t.”
“I suppose so.”
“Is there anything else sir?” Philips asked before tossing the file back on the desk.
“Just one thing.” Zed suddenly remembered the other complication. “I will need your help tomorrow night. This case will require the Prime Minister to pass an extraordinary enabling act.”
“So?” Philips sounded a little confused. “That sounds like a domestic political matter, not one that I can interfere with.” Even though Philips had been to the United Kingdom many times for so many years he knew he was still an outsider, there were jobs he could do and jobs he couldn’t. “What do you want me there for?”
“The Prime Minister feels things are a bit more official when having to sign secret acts if an American is there.”
“I see.” Philips nodded and smiled. “The old ‘above your pay grade’ tactic.”
“Exactly.” Zed grinned back. “If you could wear your US Marines uniform I’m sure that would be of benefit too.”
“Make them feel it’s important?”
“You know the drill.” Zed returned to his work. “Dismissed Captain.”
“Yes sir.” Philips turned on his heels and started to walk out of the office. He knew that once again he had been ordered to kill someone. If he didn’t want to do it then he had better make sure that the kid signs the orders. All that talk of only kill if necessary was just a smoke screen, an opportunity for Zed to deny any knowledge if Philips gets found out. Philip knew there was no way he could only tell the boy a little, he would have to disclose everything, everything he dared to anyway. Only if the boy accepts the truth will he get to live or else he’ll be slaughtered to keep him from talking.
Recently I have written Mars Encounter and published my first novel, Intergalactic Sweet Shop. Both of these are Science Fiction stories, a genre I love. I therefore wanted to take the opportunity to write a series of articles on the scifi that has inspired me both as a fan and as a writer. These articles were originally written as blog entries and released in the two weeks before the Mars Encounter novel came out. They have been re-worked here into articles/essays mainly because they proved so popular when first released.
We live on a rock that weighs 5.97237×1024 kg, it is travelling around a dying star at a speed of 30 KM/s. We are located in the unfashionable end on the Milky Way galaxy. This is one galaxy of thousands that populate an infinite universe. Even if you believe in some form of God to believe in that God being entertained by the people of one planet would be foolish. With the sort of numbers we are talking about there must be life out there on other planets.
Is that life intelligent? Would we recognise it as life? Would we ever meet that life and would we want to is questions for another day and probably a more informed mind then my own.
Science Fiction is a genre that holds endless possibilities as a story teller. It’s one where all other genres exist within it as a subset. The only limit of Science Fiction is your imagination. That is why I love it as a genre, because like no other it informs debate, stirs the imagination and causes the reader as well as the author to dream.
The following articles all look at my life in science ficition and the works that have influenced me as a writer. The Scifi looked at include The War of The Worlds, Blakes 7, Red Dwarf and Thunderbirds not to mention many others.
This is the first of a series of articles in which I look at the Science Fiction stories which have influenced me as a fan and as an author. These stories have played a part in my sci-fi education along my way to writing Intergalactic Sweet Shop and the upcoming Mars Encounter. The first entry is about the H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this work, The War of the Worlds tells the story of one citizen trying to find to survive a Martian invasion of Earth. The original text was first published in 1897 as a serialised story before being released as a complete volume the following year. It has since then been adapted many times over, sometimes with dire consequences.
The book starts in what was then a small town not far outside of London called Woking. Woking is now a much larger town and is famous for two things, firstly it is the home of the McLaren Formula One team and secondly it is where the aliens landed. I grew up not too far from Woking and although the area is well described in the book it does add something to the story if you know a little about the town and it’s geography. Certainly the location of the major parks and train station all play a part in the story. Woking acts almost as a separate character in the early part of the novel. It’s interesting that modern invasion scifi seems to always focus around capitals or major cities, yet this piece which many regard as the first starts in the suburbs.
These are also features of the text that would be deemed important to a Victorian reader, make no mistake this is a very Victorian story. The sensibilities in which it is told are very Victorian and the values of the piece do shine through. The main protagonist of the story is trying to find his fiancée during the invasion of Earth. He encounters several people, all dealing with the horrific situation in their own ways. It’s an entertaining piece that when viewed through modern eyes which are used to the more pompous period stories offers an interesting twist. It’s interesting when reading it as a piece of Victorian fiction as H.G. Wells was famously a social radical.
The battle for Earth ends with the Martians dying from bacteria they contracted on Earth. It’s a fantastic way of ending the story. Nowadays action adventures will get more and more intense until a grand finale. The action just ending seems so anti-climatic, as some people say war can feel like. Although it may seem mundane by current standards bacteria really were cutting edge science at the time the novel was first published. For a lot of people it would have been the first way they had learnt about this science. There were also other scientific theories popularised by this text and H.G. Wells’ other work.
The War of The Worlds has been remade several times over rather famously. The Orson Wells radio play which caused mass panic in American cities, the really quite terrible film of 1953 and the amazingly even worse re-make with Tom Cruise, 2005. However one version that did work was Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation. Well worth a listen as a mix of musical and audio book.
To me War of The Worlds really does set the scene for modern sci-fi. I feel it is the standard that all invasion stories are judged by. My next article is about the cult TV series Blakes 7, so get ready to wobble the sets and break the props.
Continuing my series of articles on science fiction that has inspired me as a fan this second essay is about Blakes 7.
!!!GREAT BIG SPOILER ALERT!!!
Blakes 7 was a cult TV series in the UK in the late 1970’s – early 1980’s. It was fantastic! In the way that only cheap British Sci-Fi can be. Written by Terry Nation (he didn’t really do much other Sci-Fi except for creating the Daleks, you know nothing special) this was a space opera in the truest sense.
Blake is a terrorist/freedom fighter (and the most middle class man you’ll ever see in a Sci-Fi series, it almost as if his ray gun should fire humus) somewhere in the distant future. He plans to bring down the evil Federation (like all truly evil empires in sci-fi you don’t actually see them doing anything bad, it’s all hearsay). He is convicted of some pretty bad crimes some of which include children (which no-one ever asks him about ever again) and put on a prison ship headed for a penal colony. On the way he meets Jena (pretty blonde who doesn’t say much but flirts a lot) and Avon (computer hacking genius who is witty and the real hero of the show). They discover a super fast and elegant alien space craft that has just been left there to float in space. Through some very convenient coincidences Blake and his two friends (the pilot and the computer hacker, or the two most useful people if you wish to steal an alien ship) are put on board and they steal the alien ship! The first place they go is to the prison planet to free the other prisoners, of which only two actually make it to the ship, Vila (witty clown who can break into things that the writers can’t figure out any other way to get them in whilst providing comic relief) and Gan (gentle giant stock character who is crushed to death by a polystyrene beam not long into the series). Whilst on the prison planet they meet Brian Blessed (just to prove the sci-fi cult credentials) who blows up in space whilst wearing whiter then white trainers for some reason.
Blakes 7 was an amazingly fun series that never ever took itself too seriously mainly because it didn’t have the budget for that sort of thing. Several cast changes took place throughout the show, including loosing the title character half way through (not even joking about that). One of the stand out characters was Servalan (who represented the evil Federation) who defines evil female and probably turned several boys gay through fear of her. She was however an incredibly sexy baddie, and had a sort of on/off romantic entanglement with Avon.
Blakes 7 in many ways was the poor relation of Dr Who and it showed. The budget was laughable as was many of sets. It has to been said though the special effects were impressive when you take into account the era in which it was made and size of budget. Some model ships were used more then once for different space ships (like maybe a dozen times in some cases) but the work was impressive. It survived so long because the fans were incredibly forgiving (and even embracing) of it’s floors. The fans were willing to do this because of the stories and the core characters which worked on many levels. Seriously worth a look even though this blog may seem very critical of Blakes 7 it did work on some levels and was witty.
There have been numerous attempts to reboot Blakes 7 and to produce sequels. Audio plays have been produced which do capture the essence of the story.
If you haven’t ever seen it before it is worth a look, a fun series that has influenced and number of Sci-Fi writers including me.
As part of a series of essay’s I look at the TV cult Sci-Fi Comedy Red Dwarf. Set a mere 3 million years into the future Red Dwarf follows the last human alive as he tries to cope with a hostile universe, a humanoid Cat that just wants to stare at himself in the mirror, a guilt ridden mechanoid who’s idea of fun is an all night vacuuming session and the hologram of his dead nerotic bunk mate.
I am a Smeghead. This perhaps is a term you are not familiar with, but if you are a fellow Smeghead you’ll know it well. Smegheads are fans of the show Red Dwarf. A sci-fi comedy series that has influenced me greatly in both my sense of humour and my love of Science Fiction. It has also influenced me as a person, I can’t give you an honest answer to if I love Red Dwarf because I love curry or if I love curry because I love Red Dwarf. Perhaps in another article I’ll talk more about Red Dwarf as a comedy show, but for now I want to look at it purely from the point of view of science fiction.
People often over look Red Dwarf as a sci-fi show, choosing instead to concentrate on the laugh out loud comedy that has made it so popular. However there are two elements of this show when it comes to sci-fi. First is the fun to be had at the genre laughing at itself. Clunky robots, ‘take me to your leader’, boring exposition and low budgets are all a rich source of plots and comedy for this show. Projecting real people into the world of shinny buttons and flashing lights, so space as just that little bit crap is a fun idea. Sci-fi has this ability to laugh at itself in ways that other genres just don’t. You never see anyone point out the Mrs Marple has to be the unluckiest hotel guest every, everyone gets murdered when she’s around. Yet Science Fiction knows it’s a little bit cheesy, a little bit below budget and at times falls way short of what it’s aiming for. With Red Dwarf the shortfalls of science fiction aren’t apologised for or brushed away, they are celebrated. This not only makes the show fun but loveable.
Red Dwarf was written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor originally, collectively known as Grant Naylor. Unfortunately Grant left the show mid way through it’s run, worried that he was being pigeonholed as a writer. But their collective love for science fiction is at the heart of the show and the reason why the comedy is able to work at all.
The other way I want to look at Red Dwarf is as more traditional sci-fi. Part of the social role of science fiction since the second world war (although it did it before as well) has been to get across scientific theory to a wider audience, one that perhaps ordinarily didn’t engage with the scientific community. Red Dwarf uses comedy to get across what can at times be quite complex ideas of physics, meta-physics and futurism. Ideas such as black holes, time travel, parrell universes, time running backwards, computer immersion, travel at speed of light, holograms, artificial intelligence and the place of God have all been explored throughout the shows history, often before making it to other media. People often over look the role Red Dwarf has played in communicating science theory but particularly in the UK and the US it has helped to reach a wider audience.
Red Dwarf is increadibly important to me as a person. When I was growing up I loved this show and still can recite most episodes from memory. It was the first ‘grown up’ show I was a fan of, a the first post-watershed comedy I ever watched. Before Red Dwarf I didn’t know TV could be so witty. I grew up wanting to be Dave Lister, the loveable space bum. I wanted to be as cool as the ultra-vain Cat, I felt as guilty as Kryten and I knew I was a neurotic as Rimmer. I still value people who are as quick with the one liners as Holly the ships corrupt super computer could be.
I feel it’s also important to mention how Red Dwarf has influenced me as a writer. The first scripts I ever read weren’t Shakespeare but Red Dwarf episodes. The first true novels (rather then children’s books) I ever read were Red Dwarf books. Certainly I feel I can see areas of structure and characterisation in my work that were influenced by Red Dwarf novels such as Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and especially the last novel, Backwards. I use short chapters, different character point of view and the view of the narrator, all areas which you see in Red Dwarf’s books. Red Dwarf has influenced me in a number of areas and in ways that no other science fiction franchise ever has and for that I am truly grateful.
In the latest of my series of articles on Science Fiction that has inspired me I want to look at what was probably the very first Sci-Fi series I ever got into, Thunderbirds.
The word Thunderbirds means different things to different people but it is one of the very few Sci-Fi franchises that transcends generations, particularly in the UK. My dad watched it as a kid in the 1960’s before I discovered it on my own in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when it was repeated on BBC2. Like most young boys of my generation it is how we discovered science fiction, afterall we didn’t have Doctor Who to turn too!
Thunderbirds is a puppet series that tells the story of five brothers who save the lives of people in trouble. Each brother has his own craft that he uses to try and help those in need. Scott had a super fast rocket plane designed to get to the scene first, FOR NO USEFUL REASON WHAT SO EVER!!! It was a complete waste of time as he always had to sit around and wait for Virgil to show up in the slower Thunderbird 2 which had all of the equipment in. Thunderbird 3 was a rocket ship flown by Alan. Thunderbird 4 was a submarine controlled by Gordon and Thunderbird 5 is a space station that was manned by John who would monitor the Earth’s radio transmissions for cries for help.
Each episode would see International Rescue (the organisation that owned and ran the Thunderbirds) called out to rescue someone who was obviously destined to hurt themselves and who probably shouldn’t have been allowed out on their own. The Thunderbirds would be launched from their secret tropical island base. This launch sequence was AMAZING and involved swimming pools rolling back and palm trees folding down to make way for the massive machines. Every single time in my life I have driven down a road with palm trees on either side I have been disappointed that the trees haven’t collapsed as I have driven past. Unless you too were a fan of Thunderbirds you cannot understand this level of disappointment. However every time I have driven down a road like this I have seen someone else driving the other way, equally disappointed.
Learning that not every Rolls Royce was painted pink and hand machine guns coming out of the front grill was another disappointment in growing up. FAB 1 was the car driven by Parker on behalf of Lady Penelope, an undercover agent working for International Rescue, although she never seemed to bother keeping it that much of a secret. She also an important character to look at. She was actually quite a powerful female role-model for the 1960’s. She worked as a journalist for a upper class magazine (Tatler or Vogue sort of thing). She was also quite an action hero in her own write, not just the bit of skirt for the male characters to rescue (although that did happen at times). The character of Lady Penelope is one that has changed with each new apdoptation to suit the times. However she has kept many of the original tropes which is a tribute to the writing and charactisation of the original.
Thunderbirds was a fun show but it did also help push kids towards Science Fact. Each of the five brothers was named after one of the Mercury Seven astronauts for example. Every kid I knew had a favourite Thunderbird, mine was Thunderbird 3. You knew you were the unpopular kid if you had to play John in Thunderbird 5 in the playground.
Part of the fun of Thunderbirds for me as a child was discovering that my Dad had also been a fan of it when he was a kid. This fun was increased even further when years later my nephew became a fan of the show as a small boy. Three generations of the same family enjoying the same ‘kids’ show. And now there is the new animated series which is obviously also made with the same fun and excitement as the original.
Part of the journey as a fan of Thunderbirds is discovering the other series by Gerry Anderson (Producer etc.). Stingray was always a favourite of mine as well. Although it lacked some of the excitement of Thunderbirds and had a habit of turning into a soap opera at times. Captain Scarlet was a different matter. This article was very nearly about Captain Scarlet rather than Thunderbirds (I decided to go with the original interest rather than where it led me too). Captain Scarlet was darker and more grown up then Thunderbirds and that killed off some of the fun, that fun is the reason why I loved Thunderbirds in the first place.
I’ve enjoyed sharing with you my list of SciFi that I have been inspired by, however, the list of Sci-Fi stories that have influenced me as a writer isn’t exhaustive. Here are a few others that I have enjoyed over the years but haven’t written about, mainly because there is probably enough written about them on the internet!
Both the modern telling and classic. I am a huge Whovian who loves the way how each episode of the show can be so different. However just to put the record straight Cybermen are far far scarier than the Daleks after all they did inspire the Borg in Star Trek. My favourite Doctor is a thirty way tie, but if pushed currently I would say Matt Smith is my favourite, although it’s a bit like ex-girlfriends, you always fancy your last one more than your current. I must admit I was a bit put off by the fact that he’s younger then me, a stage of my life I wasn’t ready for. Dr Who has recently been critisced for the cast of the Doctor, who traditionally has been played by a white male. I personally am of the school of thought that the role should be played by whoever is available to do it best. There’s little or no point in just casting a woman for the sake of it and the show suffering, that won’t make a suitable role model for anyone.
Obviously I’m a fan of Star Wars, that one goes without saying.
Personally I like Deep Space Nine and I don’t care what you say. The darker tone was more grown up then the other series and has been something they have struggle to get back to in my opinion. Although TNG did feature better stories and themes, but not adequately explored in my opinion.
If you’ve been reading my blogs, books and short stories then you probably have guessed that I am a fan of SG1. It’s fun and silly and yet dramatic at the same time.
I hope you have enjoyed this collection of short stories and essays. I have had the amazing good fortune to work with the team at Half A Cup Of Coffee in publishing this along with my other works. This particular collection and novel has taken a while to get out there and I certain intend to write more novels in this series so keep looking back in at jjwright.co.uk and halfacupofcoffee.co.uk for more information.
The Mars Encounter novel has been based in a very small part on a conspiracy theory that says mankind has already made to Mars and are living there fighting the native race. I can’t say I believe the conspiracy theory but the first time I heard it my imagination caught on fire and I just had to write about it. I couldn’t help but think about what sort of person would agree to travel to another planet knowing that they could never return. But also I started thinking about the people who would be left behind here on Earth. The result of those thoughts is the Mars Encounter novel.
Viewing the world with hint of scepticism is always a good thing. How do we know that what we are presented with is the truth and how do we know that the world is as we preserve it? Governments and big business will always hide things for their own gain, people in power will misuse that fact for their own personal reasons. But how would people react with this novel turned out to be true. How would you react if you were suddenly told of life on Mars and that you were the only person who could help them? Would you go willingly or would you try to escape? When faced with an adventure like travelling to another planet to fight an alien species would you yern for a normal life and a family? What would you do if you discovered your loved one, the person you cared about most in the entire world had in fact been working for a secret organisation who had kept secret the biggest discovery ever made by the human race?
I hope that if you have enjoyed this work you take the time to download and read Mars Encounter from your usual ebook supplier. Please do leave feedback/reviews either on the site where you downloaded this book from or on goodreads.com
Once again I want to say thank you for reading this collection, I hope you have enjoyed it and please do tell people about it.
To keep up-to-date with the latest releases by J.J. Wright and Half A Cup Of Coffee check out the website and twitter regularly.
What if mankind could travel to Mars? Would you want to go? What would life be like for those left behind? What would you want to know?
What if mankind was already on Mars? What if you had no choice but to join them? What it your loved ones suddenly disappeared? What if your government didn’t want you to know about It?
Mars Encounter is that story.
A sci-fi adventure for readers with a healthy suspicion of authority. Mars Encounter offers the reader an exciting trip into the lives of the first Earth colonists to Mars. Set in modern times it tells of a secretive organisation which not only knows if there is alien life on Mars, but lives amongst them.
Politicians lie, truths are covered up and people die, facts Justin had to live with, he always new he wasn’t like the other kids in Brixton. He wanted out of gangs and was determined to use his brain to do it. Justin had no idea though just how far his brain would take him.
Yelps however always knew where he was heading, straight to a war he didn’t understand, what else was there for a US Marine. But even he was surprised to learn which war he would be destined to fight in.
Mars Encounter tells the story of those who live in the shadows, who protect the lies others are determined find the truth of and the question of in the brotherhood of creation who can be trusted and who is out for themselves.
And so it came that mankind ventured out from the Earth to explore the galaxy in all it’s splendour. As mankind journeyed so did all of their hopes, dreams and ambitions. Not to mention a bag of Jelly Babies. Intergalactic Sweet Shop tells the story of the first Sweet Shop outside of our solar system. A host of characters that prove you don’t have the be clever, brave or even competent to journey into space.
The annual skate boarding competition comes to the park, this is Danny’s chance to shine and especially impress Lucy with his awesome boarding skills and his awesome hair. But tragedy befalls Danny at the competition and he must learn to live with a new champion of the park and an unexpected one at that. Can Danny learn to live with being second best or will he fight to regain his title as the best boarder in the park.
The annual skate boarding competition comes to the park, this is Danny’s chance to shine and especially impress Lucy with his awesome boarding skills and his awesome hair. But tragedy befalls Danny at the competition and he must learn to live with a new champion of the park and an unexpected one at that. Can Danny learn to live with being second best or will he fight to regain his title as the best boarder in the park.
Councillor Pearce’s plans to take over the park have moved up a gear. Scared of losing the one place they all run to the gang decides they must try and stand up for their rights. Under threat of being centre to a youth group (and being forced to play ping pong) Victoria steps up and gets everyone involved in starting a petition to save the park. Is it enough though to save the park and what will happen when councillor Pearce finds out what’s been going on.
J.J. Wright was born in the city of Leicester, United Kingdom in 1982. He now lives and works in Oxfordshire have also spent much of his life in Hampshire and Lancashire. He spends much of his time writing but also enjoys Rugby, Golf and Motorsport.
J.J. Wright previously worked as a university lecturer and in sales. He used his time in these job roles to start his writing career and often draws on these experiences in his writing.
In 2016 J.J. Wright released his first novel Intergalactic Sweet Shop with Half A Cup Of Coffee which has been successful. He also released a collection of short stories aimed at pre-teens called Skate Park. These ebooks are available through all good online ebook distributors.
Currently J.J. Wright publishes a blog on his website jjwright.co.uk and you can also follow him on twitter. J.J. Wright is bookable for speaking engagements and lectures, please contact him through the contact page on his website.
A collection of short stories set in the Mars Encounter universe by J. J. Wright. Can be read either by those new to the Mars Encounter stories or those that have already read the Mars Encounter novel. Humans are living and working on Mars, only it must be kept secret from the Earth bound population. Those with special skills are taken by a secret organisation and are put to work on Mars. This collection is their stories. A total of seven short stories are included here. Six were released in the build up to the Mars Encounter novel coming out with the other one a special bonus story written just for this edition. Also included is a series of essays by the author of his love of science fiction.