By the year 2060, mankind is on the verge of bringing Terra to her knees. The population has exploded, and land for cattle and crops has been sacrificed for housing and employment for the more than fifteen billion souls now living on the planet. Synthetic food is created in plants, and the remaining animals are kept in zoos and game preserves of the wealthy. In an effort to insure the survival of mankind, spaceships are sent to explore Terra’s nearest neighbors, Mars and Venus, but will it be too little too late?
The four men who took the MRM to Mars have high hopes, until on their return home they travel through a magnetic field that crashes them… somewhere. As they explore the unknown world with its dangers, Doc, Nick, Hank, and Ed will struggle to come to terms with their new reality and find their own paths to happiness.
- 2 To Be Read lists
Our mission wasn’t exactly a routine one, which was why we were taking off from White Sands rather than Cape Canaveral in Florida. It was also so hush/hush none of us were given details ahead of time, going on the premise we couldn’t spill what we didn’t know.
What I did know was the communications equipment was the latest developed by the Air Force, and I was anxious to get my hands on it. That was my specialty.
The room we’d been told to report to was a decent size, but it looked smaller thanks to all the Air Force Air Police who were standing around with blank expressions.
Dr. Elwyn Van Allyn, the leader of our small, intrepid band, had his arm over the shoulders of a man dressed in a drab brown suit. Doc hadn’t noticed our arrival and was pointing out strategic areas of interest on a map. I drifted over to listen.READ MORE
“We’ll do this sequence around the equator from about twenty-five thousand feet, and then we’ll do this series of equations from pole to pole.”
Wait, what? What pole? That map wasn’t of the moon and it sure as hell wasn’t Terra. I squinted at it. Ah. It was Mars, our actual destination, although only a handful of people knew that.
“The same distance, Doctor?”
“Hmm? Oh, no. We’ll run those at a lower altitude and see what we come up with.”
“Oh, hello, Nick. Dr. Galway, this is Captain Dominick Marsham, the best command and control systems operator in the Force.”
I gave a cocky grin and shrugged that off. I was the best, but that wasn’t important. Galway was a doctor? I’d always had a weakness for doctors. I took his hand. He had a nice grip. Too bad I was going to be out of town for a while.
“And this is Captain Edward Carlyle, who will pilot the MRM.”
“Doctor.” Ed stared at Dr. Galway. Oh, no, Eddie boy. I set eyes on him first. But then he just nodded briefly and didn’t even offer to shake the doctor’s hand.
Doc turned back to Dr. Galway. “Dr. Perkins will fill you in on the rest of it.”
“Thank you. Good luck, gentlemen.” Dr. Hot Stuff’s eyes seemed to linger in my direction, and I gave him my most rakish come-hither grin. He flushed and hurried off.
Shit. I’d obviously misread the signals. Oh, well; win some, lose some.
There were some sandwiches laid out on the table, and I snatched one before one of the APs could get to it. They could have left us more.
“Rest of what, Doc?” I checked out the map. “And what’s with the lower altitude thing?”
He smiled at me. I liked Dr. Van Allyn. He was a widower, and when his son Tony had brought home a skinny, beat-up fifteen-year-old—“He followed me, Dad. Can I keep him?”—he and his wife had treated me with kindness, something my own parents had never done. Tony and I had been friends for twenty years, and Doc and I…. Well, I liked him.
And I could see he wasn’t going to answer my question. I took an absentminded bite of the sandwich and had to fight to keep from spitting it out. The bread was dry and the lunch meat tasted like cardboard. Whoever had made these could have done a better job.
I tossed what was left of the sandwich into a trash can. “Who’d you round up for navigator, Doc?” I knew he’d been scrambling to find someone to replace our original navigator, a lieutenant colonel who was one of the best. Colonel Vinton had been driving back to base when he’d been run off the road by a drunk driver. He’d been in a coma for a week, and while he was doing better, he wouldn’t be going anywhere on two broken legs.
“Henry Janes.” Dr. Van Allyn looked distracted.
“Dr. Janes? You can’t be serious!” Ed sounded beyond shocked. “He’s a civilian. Plus he’s married and has two children.”
Oh, for the love of…. Nothing like Carlyle stating the obvious.
“I’m aware of that, Ed,” Doc said patiently. He’d always been a patient man. “We were in the process of recruiting him to the astronautic program when he met his wife.”
“I had dinner with Hank and Carolyn once, and he mentioned it,” I said. “I had the impression he had no regrets.”
“Yes, he walked away from it all. He agreed to work with us, but he wasn’t going into space.” Doc ran a hand through his hair. “With Gene laid up in the hospital, though.... Hank’s not only the best navigator available, but he’s a brilliant mathematician—he earned his first doctorate in multivariable calculus and linear algebra when he was twenty—and we need both. Believe me,” he assured Ed, “if he wasn’t the one man we had to have, if I had any other choice—”
“Sorry I’m late, gentlemen.” Janes entered the room. With him was a petite brunette and two kids, the boy about twelve and the girl a few years younger. “You’ve all met Carolyn, my wife, haven’t you? And these are my children, Ginny and Hal.”
The little girl was silently crying, and her brother was fighting to keep a stiff upper lip. Carolyn was smiling, but I could see the strain around her mouth.
“We’ll take good care of Hank, Mrs. Janes. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about him,” Ed said heartily.
They were the perfect family, and okay, that came across as if I were jealous, but you know what? I was. The love they had for each other was so obvious it left a hole in my gut from wanting the same for me. I glanced at Doc. Only I’d never have it.
The last thing I wanted was for my love ’em and leave ’em attitude to be questioned, so I pushed the lingering regret out of my mind and said cockily, “Ed’s right, Mrs. J. We won’t let anything happen to Hank, and we’ll be back before you know it.” I extended my hand to take hers, automatically rubbing my thumb over her knuckles in a caressing manner.
I didn’t even realize I was doing it until Ed clouted my shoulder and frowned at me. Hank just laughed, and his wife patted my cheek. “Keep him safe for me, Dominick.”
“You bet. He’ll be as safe as if he was home snug in your bed.”
“Jesus, Marsham, could you be a little less salacious?” Ed curled his lip at me.
Oh, great. Just what we needed: a Puritan on board with us. And one without a sense of humor.
“We need to leave, Carolyn. I’m sorry.” Doc really did look sorry.
Her eyes were awash with tears, but she smiled and didn’t let them fall. “Let’s go, children. Say goodbye to Daddy.”
Hank went down on one knee, and his kids ran to him, hugging him tight and whispering a final goodbye. He buried his hands in their hair and kissed their cheeks. Hal brushed the tears off his face and led the sniffling Ginny out into the corridor while their parents bid each other farewell.
Carolyn’s shoulders trembled, and the kiss she shared with her husband was so intimate I felt myself aching for something I had once known briefly. And wishing I might experience a love like that in my life just once more.
She stepped back and gave us each a glance as she held onto Hank’s hand. “God bless and keep all of you and bring you home safe to the ones who love you.” One last look at her husband, and then she was gone.
Hank’s eyes weren’t the only ones that were wet. I turned away and made a production of studying the map on the wall. Ed pretended to examine the remaining sandwiches on the platters on the table, and Doc merely grabbed up some napkins and blew his nose, a great, honking blow.
“If you’re ready, gentlemen?” An AP ran a thumb under his lower lashes.
Doc cleared his throat and dropped the napkins into a trash bin. “All set.”
“I just need a minute.” I started to walk out of the room.
“To compose yourself, Nick?” Ed was approving for once, and I really hated to burst his bubble.
“No, actually, I have to use the john.”COLLAPSE