On Mars Pathfinder (The Mike Lane Stories Book 1)

BOOK: On Mars Pathfinder (The Mike Lane Stories Book 1)
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On Mars:

Pathfinder

 

The Mike Lane Stories, Vol.1

 

By Jim Melanson

 

On Mars: Pathfinder

The Mike Lane Stories, Volume 1

Copyright © 2015 by James Melanson

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means – electronic, mechanical, photographic (photocopying), recording, or otherwise – without prior permission in writing from the author.

 

ISBN: 
978-0-9937565-5-9

See more books from this series at:
www.on-mars.ca

 

More titles available at:
www.melansonpublishing.ca

 

Editorial service provided by Dorathy Gass

www.metwritingservices.com

 

Cover Illustration © 2015 Jonathan Hunt

www.huntillustration.com

 

Acknowledgement

I thank God for giving me the ability to afford the luxury of writing, and the skill to write with.

There are several people who helped make this book a reality, and I’d like to thank them for their efforts, friendship, and contributions.

I’d like to thank my son Gaelan, a student at the University of Guelph. Working on his PhD in the field of Cancer research, he helped me understand cloning, recombining genes, and other various gooey things. Any mistakes are entirely mine. A big thank you to Rick Fearnley and Kenneth Lord, two men I’ve worked with for years. As I watched them go through the process of publishing their own books, they inspired me to pursue my own dreams of writing. Therefore, anything I produce from now on
is totally their fault
! Thank you to David Leung, pastor of the Lighthouse Church of Newcastle, who helped me deal with some of the weightier theological issues hidden in the story. Thank you to Dorathy Gass, my editor of choice. A special thanks to a lady and co-worker of mine, Jessica Smith, for making sure I had the girly mindset correct. A really big thank-you to Guillaume Ruch, my test reader extraordinaire. He caught many things that the editor and I both missed. His honest criticism (and complements) are gratefully appreciated! Last but by no means least, a very old friend, Roxanne Paquette. She helped me out in a pinch with the French translations when my long ago language skills failed me, and Google Translate didn’t look quite right.

There are a few places in the story where I mention Tim Horton®, my favourite Canadian coffee chain. I have done so with their permission. My place is littered with the cups they used to get me up early and kept me up late, so that I could write this book. Feel free to send me a large steeped tea with one cream, double cup.

The inspiration for this book and the volumes that follow comes from my love of sci-fi, but my disappointment at it always being “out of time”. Currently, there is a vision of colonizing Mars that has been made a possibility by the Mars-One Corporation. I guess that was the kick in the butt I needed to finally start writing this book. I have no affiliation with that organization; other than being an applicant (Pick me! Pick me!). I do not intend this work of pure fiction to represent that company, comment on the company, or profile that company in any way. They have my respect and gratitude for what they are going to achieve. I have been in touch with the Mars-One corporation and am pleased to announce that 10% of the authors profits from this book will be donated to their mission. I must, however, restate that I am not affiliated with Mars-One and they are not affiliated with this work of fiction.

Further inspiration comes from the sci-fi big boys in my life like Kim Stanley Robinson, Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry, Terry Pratchett, and George Lucas to name a few. The biggest salute to authors must go to the memory of Edgar Rice Burroughs for introducing me to John Carter, Tars Tarkis and Deja Thoris: they captured my imagination years ago, and hold it firmly to this day.

Ultimately, this story would never have been written without Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard, and Neil Armstrong (just to name a few), for making the fiction of yesterday, the history of today. They not only took great leaps in the advancement of mankind and science, they provided dreams and fantasies for millions of unnamed boys and girls around the world.

Jim Melanson

Cobourg, Ontario

April, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

The book is dedicated to the one person that has kept me sane and connected these last few crazy years. She is also the woman who saved my life.

Monique Altmann, my dearest friend … even though she doesn’t understand a lick of what I’m writing about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer

All Tim Hortons trademarks referenced herein are owned by Tim Hortons. Used with permission.

All Coffee-Mate trademarks referenced herein are owned by Nestle Corporation. Used with permission.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

Preface

Why would a man go to Mars alone? I mean, really, why?

I think the answer to that question is the same as asking why someone would go on vacation alone. Why do some people accept remote outpost jobs alone? What about Forest Rangers? They’re a solitary lot. Lighthouse keepers too; lighthouse keeping has to be some 
mad
 alone time. Taking a ten year posting to one of the deep void listening posts between here and Epsilon Eridani, now 
that’s
some kind of commitment to being alone. I had a friend many, many years ago who had been a geologist in the earlier stages of his life. He loved nothing more than packing his pack, and hitting the tundra in search of elusive peculiarities. He would then take those peculiarities home and squirrel himself away; studying them, surrounded by his books. He would do this for weeks; sometimes for months at a time.

Anyone I’ve known who has gone into an intensely isolated field, or work location, including those who first went to the Jovian moons; were running from something. I think we all run from something at some point in our lives. Those of us who seek solitary lives are running just a bit harder, a little bit farther. That begs the next question, especially for a guy who goes to Mars all by himself; with no possible way to return to Earth: what do you do when you stop running?

I wasn’t running from someone. I wasn’t running from the law. That would have been difficult, considering I spent years as one of the most recognized faces on the planet. I certainly wasn’t running from taxes, bank debt, insolvency, the courts, or allegations of unwanted paternity. It was much simpler, and much more … pedestrian.

I was running from a ghost.

Loreena: my love, my life, my wife. She was so much. She was all of it. She was everything. Then she was gone; but she wasn’t. She is always in here (picture me pointing to my heart). She is always in here (now, pointing to my brain bucket). The memories of her are mostly pleasant. I would see her often, after she passed, in ways that were sometimes startling, and sometimes supportive; sometimes, just funny. She appears to spend as much time smiling and laughing in the postcorporeal state of existence, as she did in the pre-postcorporeal state of existence. At least, in my mind.

I knew, however, that no matter how much I regretted, missed, loved, treasured, her memory; I should have been moving forward with my life. I wasn’t though. She haunted me. Every day and everywhere, she was there. I had tried dating in the years after her passing. It was like I was cheating on her. I just couldn’t do it. Everything they said and did, I had an anecdote about Loreena saying or doing something similar. Apparently that gets old, and fast, for another woman.

Finally, I just admitted to myself that there was one and only one great love of my life; that I had already had that great love, and it was never to be repeated. Well, there was Carrie. Carrie was nice. It was easy with her. I grew very fond of her and her two boys. I don’t know if I could say it was the “L” word. By the time I met her though, I was already preparing to go to Mars. It wouldn’t have worked out. So again, I was checking out, I was on the lam, I was on the run.

Running is never the right thing to do; yet sometimes, it’s the
only
thing you can do.

“Wherever you go, there you are.”  
Buckaroo Bonzai
 got it right. As soon as I arrived on Mars, all alone, with no return ship, I discovered the Buckmeister had it going on. In the early days after arrival on the Red Planet, I realized, 
yep, there I am
. I didn’t escape her. I didn’t escape me.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sad about coming to Mars. I wasn’t upset about coming alone. I said, “yes”. I said it for all the right reasons too. Just, perhaps, maybe out of the laundry list of right reasons, there was that one or two that might not have been quite so right. Like thinking I would escape those painful memories; the visions of Loreena at the oddest times; the aching emptiness in my heart that used to be so full of, well, her.

Sigh
. Enough maudlin verbiage.

I came to Mars all alone to prove one thing. I came to prove that humans can survive on Mars. I had to do this so that the corporation that sent me would be allowed to send more people. If I hadn’t survived, well, the whole interplanetary species thing would have been temporized. Humanity’s first steps as an interplanetary species almost did come to a crashing halt when I made planet-fall, landing in the mouth of Chasma Boreale, near the Planum Boreum. Six minutes after I arrived, my ship blew up! With me in it! I mean,
damn
, not exactly welcome wagon … know what I mean?
 
 It’s only by the grace of God, and the competence of some very, very good German engineers, that I managed to survive.

I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone on Mars after all …

… and I wasn’t welcome.

 

 

The Story Begins…

The battered, but mostly intact airlock wreckage bounced once and skittered to a halt. The lone Pathfinder was alive but unconscious within its twisted, protecting walls; while the wreckage of the exploded Lander burned around him.

 

Descent Day

Every Terran January 15
th
, humans around the solar system and beyond celebrate “Descent Day”. It celebrates the first time a human arrived on a planet other than Earth. On Mars, it also celebrates the survival of what happened almost immediately after landing … and those first few months afterwards.

That human was me. My name is Mike Lane, and I am the original Pathfinder. I gained that title by being the first spacefaring explorer to set foot on a new world, a new planet. The planet Mars to be specific. Humanity had sent dozens of exploratory robotics to the planet, but I was the first flesh and blood to arrive. While I followed in the footsteps of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon: I was the first human to go to another
planet
. That seemed to capture the imagination of all generations, everywhere. Humans were finally on their way as an interplanetary species. While I have great respect for those other two firsts, I identified more closely with Cortés. For me, there would be no going home. The fact that Cortés had destroyed his ships upon arrival in the modern southern California (formerly Mexico), would later, strike a very eerie chill down my spine.

I arrived in orbit without any fanfare. My transit vehicle took up geosynchronous orbit about 15 degrees south of the Corporation’s Mar-Sat (Mars Satellite), which had arrived twenty months earlier. The 246 days in transit had been both a very long, and yet a very quick journey. I bemoaned how long it was taking while I was on the way to Mars, but when I arrived, I found it hard to believe that I had gotten there so soon. The massive amount of studying, daily science experiments, and the regimen of strength and aerobic exercise that I did twice a day while in transit was probably why time flew by for me.

The plan that had been released to the world was that the Mars Transit Vehicle (MTV), which I somewhat affectionately referred to as the “Jalopy”, was going to be abandoned as space debris since it was too big to land. We told everyone it would eventually enter a decaying orbit, and burn up in the atmosphere of Mars. We lied.

We had a secret plan to leave the transit vehicle in orbit as a secondary communications satellite and observation deck. It had to be a secret, because of a few other capabilities that I’m not ready to talk about yet. In case something ever happened to Mar-Sat, it could also function as a secondary communication satellite. Redundancy in space exploration is always good. There is an old saying amongst survivalists, “Where you have two, you have one; where you have one, you have none.” It applies to space travel as well!

While the full capabilities of Jalopy-Sat left a distinctive bad taste in my mouth, I liked the whole cloak and dagger aspect of it too. It appealed to my inner-action movie junkie. Less than forty people knew about this plan for Jalopy, and the off-site contractors that supplied the extra “stuff” were not in the habit of being loose lipped. They were all hired and controlled by an external government agency of a foreign power that I’ll talk more about later.

The most difficult aspect within the secret part of the mission was getting the nuclear mini-reactor installed without the media catching wind of it.  However, the mini-reactor was needed to power Jalopy-Sat reliably for many years to come. Relying on solar power for this was not within the mission parameters for Jalopy-Sat, officially known to
those in-the-know
as “The Mars Platform” or more simply as “The Platform”.

After ascent and reaching orbit, I went into the trajectory burn. The final burn of the remaining big engines positioned, and placed me on a ballistic trajectory to meet up with Mars just over eight months later. After the transit vehicle (I hesitate to call it a ship - it was metaphorically just a big hollow bullet with a man inside) was on its way, we deployed the solar panel wings. We did this for show. We didn’t want the world to know we had a nuclear power source. As well, we were also testing out some new energy technology for future missions. The new solar technology worked so well in fact, that I ran everything off the solar cells, and didn’t have to fire up the mini-reactor until I reached Mars.

The last three days before descent were filled with a lot of stuff to do. Now that I was in orbit, I had to retract the solar cells. This was to give the impression that the Jalopy was now debris,
and
make it harder to find. The hull of the Mars Transit Vehicle (and eventual satellite/platform) was made of a product developed in Canada. It returned no radar image, no matter how close the radar was. It also had zero magnetic presence from the hull. The transit vehicle was also painted non-reflective black, which assisted in making it harder to find optically. In reality, the only way you could find the transit vehicle, even if you were in orbit around Mars, was if you knew where it was, or you bumped into it. We told everyone it was black, like my Activity Suit, so that it would absorb energy; part of the new technology being tested. I think most people actually believed us.

Now that I was getting ready to leave the Jalopy behind, I ran through the power-up sequence on the mini-reactor. When its systems were nominal, I moved the ship’s electrical system from solar to nuclear. The cabin lights winked out, and then back on. They were on direct feed circuits to give me a visual cue of a power problem. Everything else was on a dual power source controller, so nothing reset or was interrupted.

Most of the trip to Mars had gone smoothly. I still managed to have a few exciting moments. I did have to spend a few boring days in the water cell to avoid the effects of a radiation storm … twice. I had an interesting few moments in the space toilet when I had finished my business, and couldn’t get the closet door open. I left it open after that, live cameras be-damned. Aside from that, and a slight course correction after the midpoint, the trip had been flawless until now. This was going to be my glitch of the trip, and it was a big glitch.

I ran the sequence to retract the solar wings, one at a time, and store them back in their original resting bays. The starboard wing retracted as planned; it took 52 minutes. I felt, more than heard, a light
thunk
as it snapped into its cradle. The hatch swung shut, the green lights on the seal came on, and the indicators locked. Awesome. The port side solar wing was a different story. I ran the retraction procedure on the computer, and it showed the retraction was in progress, but when I looked out the port window, nada. Nothing was happening. It was not folding up into its original accordion shape. It was extended, and just sitting there. I re-started the computer sequence and again, all showed working fine. I looked back out the portal and the solar wing sat there, doing nothing, mocking me. I let out a string of expletives under my breath, and sent a quick message to Terra. I went on with some of the other work until the reply came back from Earth. They told me to look out the starboard window; the solar wing that I had successfully packed up was fully extended. The string of expletives got a little bluer.

They responded that it was a software glitch. The port wing retractor was actually firing the starboard wing extender procedures. They said to retract the starboard wing, and then retract the port wing manually. My mood brightened a bit at that. While I had trained for it quite extensively, I never had a reason to go EVA during the trip as of yet.
I was finally going on a spacewalk
!!
Yayyy
!!

I ran the retraction procedure again for the starboard wing, and looked through the portal to make sure it was indeed moving. While that was in progress, I got into my pressure suit, ran the prewalk checks on the environment controls of the space suit, and made sure the oxygen bottles were full. Why don’t they call them nitrogen bottles anyways? The air we breathe on Earth is 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, and a handful of other gases including carbon dioxide, neon, methane and helium: so really, why don’t we call them nitrogen bottles? I digress. I pulled on the lower body torso and legs of the space suit, and then wiggled into the upper torso and arms of the suit. The waist seal got a solid lock the first try. I put on the helmet, powered up the suit, and checked the diagnostic readings and oxygen flow. All was good. I shut down the system and then waited for the starboard wing to finish retracting, again. Finally there was the soft
thunk
sound of the cradling. I confirmed visually that the hatch was closed, and then shut down the program that controlled the solar wings. I didn’t want it’s “glitch” to decide to re-launch the starboard wing while I was out working on the port wing.

I made sure the water bag was full in my space suit. This was a device that allowed me to drink water through the sippy-hose; not to be confused with the other water bag, which would be almost full by the time I was done. I filled the pressure suit with air, and I put on the helmet. I had to re-set it twice before I could lock it in place. I put on the gloves, sealed them, and then closed my visor. Reaching around behind my helmet, I tightened the locking screw on the visor armature. I didn’t want to wind up like Nick Piantanida.

I may have made the whole space suit thing sound easy, but it’s not. On Earth I had three people helping me to put it on. In zero-g it was easier to get into; but it still had its challenges. The pressure suit underneath the space suit took almost 20 minutes to put on. The rest of the suit took about an hour to get on and hooked up properly. I always wondered why astronauts in space looked like rag dolls with their arms and legs splayed when resting. It’s because of the pressure suit. The pressure suit is pumped up with gas to keep your innerds, from becoming your outerds. Combined with the space suit it makes movement very unorganic. You have to be physically strong and have a good deal of stamina to work in a pressure suit/space suit. If the space suit itself had been pumped up to pressure, it would be useless for movement; hence the two suits. A few hours of EVA, and you can lose a few pounds from exertion against the pressure suit itself. Thankfully I’d be using a mechanical Activity Suit on Mars. Developed by MIT, the Activity Suit was going to be much easier to use. However, for now, I was in the real space suit that was provided to us almost last-minute by NASA, and had to get moving. I say almost last-minute because to this day, each and every NASA space suit is custom-made and hand stitched by a small company in the Mojave desert. They did, however, deliver mine in record time.

Powering up the suit environmental system, and getting all nominal readings, I floated into the smallish airlock on the Jalopy, then shut and sealed the inner hatch. The depressurization was about ninety seconds. I took a deep breath of anticipation, and then I opened the outer hatch.

I stood there in the open hatch, just taking a moment. I was a Pathfinder. I was an Explorer. I was travelling through space and going to a new planet. I was alone. After years of training and months of travel, now, at this moment, about to take my first step into the void: I felt like I was finally a real, honest to goodness astronaut. I laughed quietly; I was giddy like a school boy with a new toy rocket ship.

I looked all around the hatch opening. I could see beautiful Mars in full rise just above the horizon line. I looked down to see distant stars with a lot of nothingness in between them. My tether was securely attached to the airlock’s inner anchor point, my tool bag was clipped to my utility belt, and I was ready to go. Holding on to the frame of the hatch, I lifted a foot to step out into the void, and had to stop. I had to suppress the urge to vomit. I knew I was safe, I knew I wasn’t going to “fall”; but somewhere in my brain, the animal instinct that preserves most of us from acquiring a Darwin Award kicked in. I took another moment, breathing deeply a few times while still taking in the splendour before me, and then decided to fool my brain. I turned around, facing the interior of the smallish airlock, holding the door frame. Then I just let go and hung there, floating in the open hatch.

I gave a little toot on the manoeuvring jets on my space suit, and flipped upside down slowly. Now Mars appeared below the horizon and suddenly, I didn’t feel ill any more. I manoeuvred out about four feet, turned to the right (which was aft now that I was turned around and relatively upside down), and then another little burst on the manoeuvring jets sent me back to the solar wing which was about fifteen feet from the hatch.

I looked down into the cradle-well for the manual release on the solar wing armature, grabbed it and pushed it. Sticking up perpendicular to the cradle, it had to be moved all the way down flush with the cradle to disengage the locking mechanism that would allow me to fold up the wing manually. Of course, it wouldn’t budge. I tried again. No movement at all.

I had tools for nuts, bolts and prying things open; but nothing to lever another lever. “
Well, wasn’t this a pickle
,” I thought to myself. I can’t leave the wing extended. I was already four hours into my orbit time, and only had about sixty-eight hours remaining until descent. While I wasn’t in a rush, I wasn’t going to dilly-dally either. I put one hand on the frame of the wing-well opening, and swung my body around. I grabbed the frame with my other hand and then swung my body, foot first, down towards the locking mechanism. If you can’t turn it or force it … then kick it! The darn thing didn’t even pretend to move.

BOOK: On Mars Pathfinder (The Mike Lane Stories Book 1)
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