TIME : February 4, 2010 11:30 A.M.
PLACE : A taxi somewhere in Lexington, Kentucky
It was an ordinary day. Apart from the cold weather normally associated with February, it was a clear, sunny day, perfect for outdoor activity. Unfortunately, Peter couldn't enjoy the best whether in over a month. He had to hurry to the airport to meet two of his friends.
"Tomorrow I'll be in Hawaii, miles away from all this cold weather," he thought.
Elizabeth Cynthea Givens the second, who preferred to be called Lisa, was a friend of his from college. She was very rich and had a habit of using her financial status to get what she wanted. However, in spite of her love of money and power, she also enjoyed helping others.
She remembered Peter from college, so when she heard the Peter was unemployed, she asked him if he would be willing to work for her. He accepted greatful for Lisa's kindness. He and Linda Nicholle Myers, another friend from college, would start working at Lisa's winter mansion in Hawaii starting tomorrow.
"You don't talk much," mumbled the taxi driver.
"I was just thinking about how quickly things change," Peter explained.
"If you think things are changing quickly now, wait 'till you're my age," declared the taxi driver.
Peter James Buckwell was a young man, 26 to be exact, but he was older than both Linda, 25, and Lisa, 23. He was old enough to know that with age came experience. The taxi driver was well into his fifties and probably had plenty of advice to give him, if he was willing to listen.
"Sometimes I can't live up to other peoples expectations," started Peter. "The older I get the more people expect of me. Does it ever stop?"
"Don't worry about what other people expect of you?" advised the taxi driver. "Worry only about what you expect out of yourself. If you can't please yourself, there's no point in even trying to please anybody else. It won't work."
The taxi cab driver offered plenty of advice. Some of it was good and some of it was not so good, but he never forgot what he had said about pleasing himself first. If he could please himself, it would be much easier for him to please others.
He thought briefly about his attempt to go to Mars. He had always been fascinated with astronomy and exploration which made it hard to resist a chance to be one of the first civilians to set foot on the planet Mars. The odds of being selected were over a million to one, but he figured it wouldn't hurt for him to try.
The drawing had been held early in the morning. He had missed the announcement because he wanted to be well rested for his trip to Hawaii. He wished whoever won the best of luck not knowing that he was one of the winners, and so were two of his friends from college.
TIME : 11:55 A.M.
PLACE : The airport
Peter payed the taxi driver, thanked him for his advice, and started running to the gate where Lisa and Linda would be waiting for him. He wasn't exactly late, but he wasn't early either. He rushed to get there as soon as possible.
"Three tickets to Honolulu, first class please."
Peter looked for the source of the voice and found Lisa and Linda waiting for him. Even if he hadn't recognized Lisa's voice, he figured that Lisa would be the only one asking for first class tickets to Honolulu.
"Peter! It's good to see you again!" exclaimed Linda as soon as she spotted Peter approaching.
"It's good to see you too," said Peter enthusiastically.
The check-in girl handed Lisa the tickets.
"Thank you. Enjoy your flight," she chimed sounding like a recording.
They were just about to board the plane when someone came running after them.
"Stop! Wait!" he shouted. "The three of you won the drawing. You're coming to Mars with me."
Henry Adam Taylor was yet another friend of their from college. The last time Peter had seen him, he was a test pilot as N.A.S.A. Hank was the one who had convinced him to enter the contest for the mission to Mars. Now, he was saying they had won.
Peter was lost in thought for a few seconds trying to take it all in. His first reaction was one of great joy. Then, his logical side caught up with him. If the odds of each of them were about a million to one, the odds of all three of them winning were so astronomical that it couldn't have happened by pure chance.
Linda and Lisa didn't take time to calculate the odds and, even if they had, they wouldn't have cared. They ran over to Hank and began celebrating almost immediately. Lisa even forgot to return the tickets.
"Come on, Peter!" insisted Hank.
Peter knew that something was wrong, but he tried not to let it bother him. Slowly, Peter put his doubts aside and joined in the celebration. They were on their was to Cape Kennedy, Florida to train for the trip to Mars on the Aries 7.
TIME : 1:00 P.M. (13:00)
PLACE : Flight 1350
Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa were on their way to Cape Kennedy. Peter thought about his luggage which was currently on its way to Hawaii. He had been assured that his luggage would be returned to him as soon as possible. Peter doubtfully wondered how many days that would be.
However, that was the least of his worries. If Hank was the pilot and he, Linda, and Lisa were the crew, someone had to have selected them delibrately. His first guess was that Lisa had something to do with it.
"Lisa," Peter whispered. "Don't you find it strange that all four of us were picked for the same mission."
"So that's what's bothering you," Lisa whispered back. "You might say I gave the selection committee a financial incentive."
"You bribed the selection committee?" attacked Peter. "Do you realize how many years you'll spend in prison in anyone finds out."
"Relax," Lisa advised him. "No one's going to do anything."
"I hope you're right," Peter said doubtfully. "I hope no one gets as suspicious as I did."
"She told me about it yesterday," interrupted Hank who had been listening to their conversation. "I thought you already knew."
"I don't like it," admitted Peter. "but I want to go to Mars. I'll help you this time, but next time would you mind telling me about it first."
"We wanted to surprise you," joked Lisa.
"Any more surprises like that and I might have a heart attack," responded Peter.
Everything was fine for the moment. Peter had found out why they had been selected. With any luck, what Lisa had done wouldn't be made public until after their mission was over.
TIME : May 18, 2010
PLACE : Cape Kennedy, Florida
It was the day before the launch of the Aries 7. Peter couldn't believe that they had completed their training without anyone getting suspicious. He suspected that Lisa had bribed a few more people to prevent any investigation.
"Tomorrow's the big day," he sighed. "At eight o'clock, we're on our way to Mars."
"We have to be sure we get plenty of sleep," recommended Hank. "It will be the last full night's sleep we get for a long time."
"Are you ready for the trip?" asked Linda.
"I've been ready for months," Hank replied.
"Me too," agreed Lisa. "How many more situations can they train us for?"
"One more," answered Hank. "the real thing."
"I'm ready right down," declared Peter. "but since we won't be leaving until tomorrow morning, I'm going to follow Hank's advice and go to bed early. Staying awake won't make time go by any faster."
Peter tried to go to sleep, but his mind was filled with thoughts about the training they had done in the past and what lay in store for them in the future. Only three months earlier, he though going to Hawaii was a big deal. Now, he was going to leave Earth altogether and set foot on the red planet. He sensed that the mission would not go as smoothly as he would like, but he wanted to go anyway. A chance that came along only once in a lifetime (usually never in a lifetime except Lisa rigged the odds) and he didn't want such an opportunity to be wasted no matter how it was obtained.
In spite of all the thoughts floating through his head, Peter was finally able to go to sleep. It wouldn't be long before it was time for him to get up again.
TIME : May 19, 2010 8:00 A.M. (Launch Time)
PLACE : The Launch Site
May 19, 2010 would be a day that Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa would always remember. It was the day that changed their lives. They had left everything they knew behind to venture out into the unknown. The Earth would never be them same to them again.
Peter, Linda, and Lisa were silent for the first few minutes of their journey. They were still trying to take in all the sights around them. They had seen pictures of the Earth from space before, but it was a totally different feeling to actually experience it. It made them realize how small the Earth truly was compared to the rest of the universe.
Only Hank said anything, and that was only to tell Houston Control the progress of their mission.
"What is your current altitude?" asked Houston Control.
"About 500 kilometers," Hank replied.
"Release tail section," ordered Houston Control.
Hank did as he was told. Without the Earth's atmosphere to slow them down, the tail section was no longer needed. Peter, Linda, and Lisa watched as the tail section fell silently to Earth. It started to burn up as it entered the atmosphere until it completely disappeared from sight.
Ahead of them was only the emptiness of space. They would not be able to see Mars for another three weeks. The four of them would have to get use to each other because they were going to share a rather small area during that time.
At last, they started talking to each other.
"Beautiful, isn't it," Peter said referring to the big blue and green ball behind them that they knew as the Earth.
"Yes," agreed Linda. "I just hope it stays that way."
"It will," predicted Peter. "Nature has a way of surviving no mater what we do."
"Someday, Earth won't be the only inhabited world," Hank cut in. "N.A.S.A. has plans to colonize Mars in the distant future. Their goal is to establish a permanent colony on Mars by the end of the century. Anything we discover will be useful to them."
"Is that why they asked for civilians?" inquired Lisa.
"More or less," answered Hank. "They want to know we react to the Martian environment."
"If our mission is a success, we'll become famous!" exclaimed Peter. "We'll be know as the pioneers of the Martian colonies."
"Maybe not that famous," argued Hank. "but we will be remembered for our efforts."
"Can we claim property on Mars?" wondered Lisa. "Can we buy it from the government?"
"I don't know," Hank sighed. "You're the only one I know who would ask such a question."
"She's always looking for a way to get rich quick," agreed Peter. "Or should I say, 'get richer quick."
"She does have an interesting idea though," defended Linda. "I'd like to own property on Mars."
"What would you do with it?" asked Peter. "It's not exactly a place you can go to on your vacation."
"I'd sell it to someone who could use it and make a huge profit on it," explained Lisa.
"Do you ever stop thinking about ways to make money?" wondered Peter.
"Occasionally," said Lisa.
"Well I'm afraid you're going to have to get used to it," lectured Peter. "Your money will be totally useless on Mars."
"That's what you think," thought Lisa.
The rocket continued to speed along toward its destination leaving Earth further and further behind. It was now just a tiny speck in the sky and soon even that would disappear.
"We're on our own," declared Hank looking back at the Earth.
TIME : 8:00 P.M. (20:00)
PLACE : Somewhere between Earth and Mars
Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa had begun to get used to life in outer space. In the twelve hours they had spent together in the Aries 7 they had shared three meals, watched two movies (there was a T.V. set and VCR installed into one of the walls of the ship), and learned hqw to move around in zero gravity. Zero gravity had been simulated for them in various controlled situations, but it was a completely different experience when it occurred naturally. So far they had had no major arguments, a good sign for the future.
Hank radioed a message back to Houston Control to let them know that everything was fine. He put down the radio and stretched. It had been a long day for him. As the pilot, he was responsible for the safety of his passengers. It was a demanding job, but one he enjoyed, as long as it wasn't twenty-four hours a day.
"Tired?" asked Peter with some concern.
"Yes," sighed Hank. "I've been busy all day."
"I'm sure the computer has us on its preprogrammed course," stated Peter. "I know where most of the warning lights are and what they stand for. Perhaps I could relieve you for the rest of the night."
"Do you want to relieve me?" inquired Hank.
"Yes," answered Peter. "I'd like to see how this thing works." After the initial launch, piloting the ship really wasn't that hard. It was basically just keeping an eye out for anything that might cause trouble. Peter looked around and stretched.
"Everything is working perfectly," he thought.
As soon a Hank left the control room, he started looking for Linda and Lisa. He thought he might be able to play a game with them to relieve the boredom. He found them starting to watch another movie.
"Don't watch them all," complained Hank. "Those are the only movies we have. If you watch them all now, you won't have anything to watch for the rest of the journey, not to mention the time we spend on Mars and the trip home."
"I like this movie," Lisa snapped back. "I wouldn't mind seeing it a hundred times."
"You may get your chance," said Hank.
He figured if he couldn't beat them, he might as well join them. The three of them watched the movie together in peace.
TIME : June 9, 2010 2:21 P.M. (14:21)
PLACE : Mars
The first part of their journey was over. They had reached the planet Mars. Hank stepped out onto the Martian surface. He was experiencing their first major problem since leaving Earth. They had lost all contact with their home planet. The communication equipment seemed to be working fine, yet, for some reason, they couldn't receive any messages for Houston Control. Linda was next to set foot on the Martian soil with Lisa and Peter right behind her.
"Can everybody hear me?" asked Lisa.
"I can hear you," Peter replied.
"Me too," added Linda.
"I could hear all three of you," Hank began. "We have no problem communicating with each other, but we can't hear anything from Earth. It might clear up in a few minutes or it might be damaged permanently. In either case, we'll continue our mission as if communications were never doubted. If this keeps up for several days, we might see about trying to leave early."
"Our first job is to take soil samples," Peter reminded them.
Peter, Hank, Linda, and Lisa got out the equipment necessary for taking soil samples completely unaware that someone was watching them.
"Soon," he said softly yet harshly. "Soon you will know who I am."
For the time being, he was content to watch them.
TIME : 7:30 P.M. (19:30)
PLACE : Back at the ship
With the exception of their inability to contact Earth, their first day on Mars had been uneventful. Using their Martian revolver, they had made a general map of everything within two kilometers of the ship and found nothing out of the ordinary. However, when they got back to the ship, things had changed drastically. The ship had been damaged and there was no apparent explanation for it.
"Noooooo!" cried Hank when he saw the damage.
"What happened?" demanded Lisa.
"Sabotage," Hank explained gravely. "Our engines have been tampered with. It will take at least a week to repair the damage and until that time, we will be unable to leave Mars."
There was silence. Each of them was still trying to take in the full impact of what Hank had just said. They would be unable to leave for at least a week.
In the distance, a figure stood laughing at them.
"This is only the beginning," he promised. "Things are going to get much worse."
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