Brandon Jones woke; he checked his Fitmonitor and found that he had had eight hours of really pleasant sleep. The luxurious Sit’n’Sleep reclining chairbed, the low lighting and the gentle hum of the Airsup had lulled him to sleep. He had eaten the delicious in-flight meal provided and drunk three glasses of the Grapevine Super cordial during the first two hours of the flight, before falling asleep. He would land at the Lunaport in another hour, a total trip time of twelve hours. He was booked into the best hotel in Armstrong. This was the way to travel.
Brandon had made this trip many times before, but never in such luxury. He had always used the ferry in the past, which was slow, crowded and uncomfortable. The ferry took fifty-two hours to travel from Earth to the Moon, which meant that you had to sleep for two nights in a basic cabin with minimal facilities. The noisy restaurants served up indifferent bland food and the bars were full of intoxicated drinkers, preparing for the debauchery of the Eagleville casinos and nightclubs.
This time it was different; his trip was funded by a consortium of Space Travel Development corporations and Higher Learning establishments. His task, as Associate Director of Extra-Terrestrial Archaeology at Minatoku-Cambridge University, was to investigate alleged interesting findings on Mars.
It was reported that, artefacts had been found that were possibly pre-settlement. The team on site were geologists, but they had provisionally proved that the objects found were not detritus from early human landings or crashes. If this was true, it was very exiting and might lead to the discovery of early native life on Mars.
He would travel on the monthly shuttle from the Lunaport to Marsbase, a journey he had only once made before. The shuttle was basically a freighter with some passenger accommodation, it was rather civilised, with dinner at the captains table and all that sort of thing.
Human settlement of Mars had been a disaster. Thousands of pioneering settlers had
set off from the Moon to escape the overpopulation, deprivation and conflicts in the World. The vehicles used were not always appropriate and many were lost on the way. Those who made it found it hard to recreate an Earth-like environment and many more died trying. The world-wide plagues of the mid twenty second century wiped out approximately half the population of the Earth and made settlement of Mars unnecessary so most of the surviving settlers returned to Earth.
Now, in 2204, there is a small Mars base maintained for scientific purposes.
Brandon justified hiring a luxury Lunapod by pointing out that time was of the essence and he would need time to bring together all the equipment required for the expedition before the scheduled Mars shuttle launch.
He stretched and considered the breakfast menu. Before making a decision he activated the blinds covering the panoramic portholes. He was surprised to find that forward vision did not reveal the fast approaching surface of the Moon and the Lunaport. Similarly there was no sign of the receding Earth in the rear view porthole. This was very strange; he activated the exterior cameras but no images appeared on the screens. Physically and electronically he could see nothing.
Brandon’s scientific training told him that he had to analyse the situation carefully.
He ripped the top off a flask of CAF and waited for the required thirty seconds for the contents to warm up. He sipped the bitter-sweet liquid and considered what he had seen, or rather what he had not seen. After dimming the lights as low as they would go, he carefully made another inspection of his external surroundings. To the right he could see nothing but blackness. To the left there was also only blackness, but after some time and by straining his neck he could just make out some sort of horizon above which he could vaguely distinguish distant stars. This didn’t make any sense. He confirmed his original observation; there was no sign of either the Moon or Earth.
There was absolutely no sun light which was very strange. He wondered if the Pod was powered by solar energy and if the lack of sunlight would result in the closure of all the vehicles systems. There were no read-out panels or dials to indicate the charge in the crafts batteries, nor was there any indication of the remaining air supply.
He felt a little foolish to be considering disaster, whatever had gone wrong; he knew that he would soon be rescued. He found a discretely positioned big red button with an even more discreet notice saying ‘Press in Emergency’. Brandon considered his present predicament to be an emergency, so he pressed the button; he had not pressed a button like this since school days. A message appeared on the small screen above the button saying ‘Location beacon has been activated’ ‘Contact with the Emergency Services is temporarily unavailable’. Well that is great, he thought, I’m stuck somewhere in space with no contact with humankind.
Being a practical sort of guy, a scientist and what is more, an only child; he didn’t really need contact with others.
He carried out a detailed inspection of the Lunapod, and made an inventory of the items available to him. Food and drink were not a problem; he estimated that there was at least five days supply of luxury de-hydrated feasts, including drinks, but he could not ascertain exactly how much water was on board. He was still unable to find any indication of the remaining charge in the vehicles batteries, nor the amount of air available. In a first-aid alcove he did find two small air cylinders and a couple of fully charged torches. To be on the safe side he reduced the power usage as much as possible, but ensured that the location beacon was still operating. He felt a little foolish to be so careful as he knew that it would only be a matter of hours before his Pod was located and recovered.
Bandon settled down to wait. He had his personal InfoCom with which he tried to contact the Earth and the Moon without success, his device was probably not strong enough to contact Mars, but he tried anyway. From the available information Brandon reckoned that he had somehow travelled to the dark side of the Moon. He reasoned that there would be, at least, enough air on board to support a return journey to the moon; therefore there would be another 15 – 20 hours, maybe a days, supply left.
He listened again to all the Mars reports stored on his InfoCom. He drank two flasks of CAF. He exercised in what he now realised was a very confined space. He ate another meal although he begrudged using the power. He had some entertainment on his InfoCom but didn’t feel like being entertained. He found that 5 hours had passed, although it seemed twice that. He tried to sleep but his Fitmonitor showed his heart rate was high, he was beginning to feel stressed.
8 more hours passed with annoying slowness and Brandon was more than stressed, he was beginning to panic. He had lost count of the number of times he had searched, what he now thought of as his prison. He even searched for a way to escape the Pod, knowing full well that escape would mean instant death. Of course there was no way of opening the portal from the inside for basic safety reasons. He was aware that this Pod would probably become his coffin, but at least, his coffin would be luxurious.
He was resigned to the fact that he was going to die so he ordered the most sumptuous meal he could find and ten measures of Grade A Wheat Spirit. Brandon was not used to drinking strong spirits, and was very quickly reeling drunk. He ordered another seven and a half measures by mistake and knocked them back. Now he saw the funny side of his situation, he laughed at the fact he was ‘Lost in Space’ like a old time hero.
He giggled when he thought he heard a screeching noise and felt the Pod moving upwards. He laughed out loud when he thought he saw the portal opening. And then he was violently sick.
The space debris recovery men had taken a chance that there might be some debris worth collecting on the Dark Side, they had not scavenged this area for a month or so.
To there surprise they found a Lunapod with its location beacon flashing. This could be a money spinner. They grappled the Pod and hauled it into the decompression chamber. Ben went into the chamber and opened the Pod’s portal, he was amazed to find a vomit smelling gent chortling to himself and obviously very drunk.
“Hey, Jerry! Look what I’ve found! Get out of the shadow and contact Lunapod.
Tell them we have recovered their Pod No 358 and their customer who is really angry.
I will hose him down and get him into a bunk to sleep it off.”
After some time Lunapod replied saying that they would pay for the recovery and transport to the Lunaport. There would also be a reward for the men who made the recovery if the matter was not reported to the Authorities.
“Jerry, Tell them, we want double the reward in advance or we will go public.”
Lunapod transferred the money to the debris recovery ship and Ben and Jerry delivered Brandon to the hospital in Eagleville, where they were used to dealing with drunks. The magistrate fined Brandon for being ‘drunk and disorderly’ but he continued on his journey to Mars where he was not convinced by the artefacts found. He had some packaged for return to Earth and further investigation.
When Brandon’s backers heard his story, they sued Lunapod Inc. for a record sum which resulted in Lunapod’s liquidation. B&J Enterprises bought the company for a very low price and made a great success of the venture. The financial media lauded the bin men who had made the company such a winner.
Lunapod offered Brandon unlimited travel in their vehicles, but he declined preferring to travel by the slower less luxurious Moon ferry.
Come in, Cadet, please be seated.
I have been watching your progress and I am very pleased with your performance.
As a result, I have decided to give you a special assignment.
You may be wondering why we have suspended our usual sampling programme, and why we are holding station at this one location.
What I am about to tell you is not exactly secret, but I do not want it to be general knowledge to be spread around the ship.
It may seem strange but we are in this location to witness a human birth.
The reason for our interest in this matter is that the mother was impregnated by one of our own, a Rating from the Engineering Department who jumped ship and ‘went to Earth’. He had a liaison with a woman, a minor princess, and got her pregnant.
That is why we are here, the woman is about to give birth to a child who is directly related to us, the creators of the human race.
You will appreciate the complexity of this matter.
It seems that the location of the birthing is far from hygienic; it also seems that human births are not like ours they are very unpleasant and can be lethal.
Your initial task is to sanitise the location to minimise infection, then you are to monitor the situation, assess the health of the child and its ability to interact with our monitoring systems.
You are to be in direct, and constant, contact with me, personally.
Yes I have many questions, Sir. Firstly, I am honoured that you should consider me for this job, but why not your usual messenger, AA Gabriel?
He is unavailable; I can not give any further detail.
Secondly; Will I need to draw any special equipment from Stores?
You will be issued with a full length white garment, which is similar to the local human dress.
The air is breathable; no need for a full helmet, but a light weight virtually invisible head-dome will be required to guard against cross-contamination.
You will carry a multi-function scanner, a standard communicator and a two-way language translator.
Thirdly; What has happened to the offending Rating?
He was tried and found guilty of gross misconduct. He was stripped of his rank and all privileges. He is not allowed to return home and is confined in an underground facility, on this planet, where he is tasked with monitoring volcanic activity.
Thank you, Sir. I have no further questions.
I have just received information that may be relevant. It appears that a small group of human scientists have observed our presence, and are travelling towards the subject location. You might not encounter them, but you should be aware.
Thank you, Sir
I have successfully transported to Earth, but I seem to be a little off target.
I have landed in an open area where there are four-legged creatures.
There are also some humans who seem to be guarding the creatures.
The humans were terrified of me, especially as I had to illuminate the area to ascertain my location. I have managed to calm them, although the translator initially had trouble locating their dialect.
I told them that a very important baby, a king, is about to be born at a local hostelry. They have agreed to escort me to the location.
I think they believe my story and are eager to be in the presence of royalty. They are simple people, and are very respectful to me, they keep referring to the light which is reflected from my head-dome as an aura or halo.
We have eventually arrived at the correct hostelry, after a couple of detours and much shouting a gesticulation by the humans. It is a unremarkable building, somewhat dilapidated, and instead of entering building, we are being led to an outbuilding at the rear of the premises. I think my human escorts are beginning to disbelieve that this is the location of a royal birth.
The outbuilding is, as you indicated, disgustingly unhygienic, it is populated by various life forms which I am informed are domestic animals.
The mother has already given birth and is located in a corner of this animal shed.
My scanner shows she is reasonably healthy and is in no immediate medical danger.
The child is a boy; his scan shows that he is physically human, but his mental abilities will develop to be similar to our own. He already exudes an atmosphere of leadership and a calm confidence. My human escorts have fallen to their knees and are pledging themselves to this new-born king.
But wait, there is a further development; the human scientists you mentioned at my briefing have arrived. They are flamboyantly dressed and have an air of importance.
In the presence of the child, they are overwhelmed and they too, have fallen on their knees.
They are making offerings of various earth-bound substances which I assume are considered of great value.
It seems that all humans whatever their ranks are prepared to honour this child.
Let us trust that he can bring peace and goodwill to the entire unstable human race.
As all seems to be correct, here, and I know you will, now, be able to remotely monitor the child, I will, with your permission, Sir, return to base.
You may return. Well done, you have accomplished your task admirably. I will be recommending that you be promoted to an A position. Thank you Cadet.