Beyond Mars | By: James Turner | | Category: Short Story - Sci-Fi Bookmark and Share

Beyond Mars


Following the colonization of the moon in 2067, Man truly felt like he owned space. Human ownership of the moon had seemed like another triumphant leap forward for the species. The days had long since gone when mankind was content with simply looking up at the stars, idly wondering what lay out there. Progress had seen man duly travel deep out there into space and as the years turned into eras and eras turned to history, the people of Earth had a vantage point from the Moon to view the entirety of space. We had gained a better angle on God’s creation. Indeed the more vainglorious individuals that went to habitatuate on the newly conquered Moon truly believed they were looking down from the High Chair above all creation. Spacecrafts and oxygen-regenerators had furthered the 21st Century philosophy that Mankind now owned God. The initial mission to establish living stations on the surface of the Moon went flawlessly. Subsequent trips involving the installation of networks of tunnels which themselves established both living and industrial sectors had also gone without problem. It was relatively soon after this that a basic working infrastructure was established. This was itself followed by the inevitable growth of commercial areas. New shopping malls, supermarkets and eventually boutiques came to be seen in the more populace and affluent living sectors. Life on Earth had indeed been transposed with minimal fuss in all it‘s glory. The large Lunar building authorities were even eventually able to create man-made lakes, man-made parks and man-made nature reserves in different sectors of the Moon. There were also two churches, one mosque and one synagogue for legal worshipping regulations. If you travelled far enough and paid enough, you could definitely visit lions and pandas on the zoos there. The finest restaurants were now being founded on the Moon rather than New York, Beijing or London. The leading fashion designers were paid millions to open exhibits and catwalk shows, and of course the latest bands were playing all over the best spots on the Moon. The citizens who had moved to the moon were initially from the elite social strata. To begin with people were excited by the chance of living in a place that made Earth seem passé. The option was taken up by thousands of couples and families, not to mention scores of celebrities, actors, politicians and billionaires. New economic opportunities had presented themselves on the moon, particularly following the mineral bonanza during the 2080’s. The economic success of the Moon had developed concurrently. Besides, it was only an 18-hour journey to Lunar-Port 1, and space travel had been made fully safe following the development of the X-Class World Space Association (WSA) Crafts. It was becoming cheaper and more accessible to move there by the year.

Theodore Backus was a 34 year old space craft pilot. He was a tall guy, standing comfortably at 6”3. He was reasonably good looking and had no trouble finding action whilst stationed on the Moon. He knew that his wife wouldn’t find out about his playing away because she was always too busy looking after their kid, Peter. Thankfully she was not the type of woman to marry and then break those vows. He was a damn lucky guy in that respect. Sure he still loved the pair of them, but the free advantages offered from living in a decent sector of the Moon whilst having a good job and plenty of disposable income meant he could almost take his pick from the bars he frequented. Let there be no doubts, Ted Backus was an immoral man. He had convinced his family that he had to work overtime on a frequent basis to cover the Earth mortgage of their 3 bedroom house, he had only briefly lived in during his early piloting career. Theodore had been a long-term resident on the Moon now; despite the occasional flights home his family were becoming a bit of a distant memory. He had been living on the moon on and off since 2081. His career had seen him inducted as one of the first commercially licensed pilots taking ships full of tourists to the Moon. He had liked the place so much he decided to prolong his stay there. He kept in contact of course with Anna and Pete through Vid-Screens and the Sphere, but his responses to their calls was nearly always along the lines of “Great to hear from you two, I’m missing you so much on this dustbowl”. He probably over played it a bit; he always felt slightly fraudulent talking to them with a strained actors visage. The pair of them saw enough on the news to know that life in any sector of the Moon really wasn’t a hardship. The place offered everything to anyone. The pressure and responsibility of being a family man had probably lead to his decision to spend the majority of his time literally on another planet from his family. The Dad job had been alright when the child was just a fleshy bump his wife had, but the business of reading bedtime stories, changing nappies, heating bottles, not having sex and so on had really changed the positive dynamic he previously had with Anne. The interplanetary nature of his work was a good excuse he felt for being a failure as a parent. His emotional distance was more literal than metaphorical in his case.   

His job had also defined him more than his family did. The journeys he had to control were relatively simple in the X-Class crafts, and his main concern was simply to ensure the right co-ordinates to and from Earth. Most major cities had developed space-ports. Indeed it was only rational really. Fossil Fuels had actually become more efficient than any government had dared initially dream. It seriously took him only about 10 gallons of ionized petroleum to power his craft for the journey from Dallas SP to Lunar-Port 1. The additional, and technically vital kinetic energy used was derived from reversing the force of gravity and gaining positive motion via a very complex Nano-Engine system. All crafts when damaged were assessed and fixed by the unbelievably proficient and effective mechanical Robos of course. Ted could maybe explain the science behind his X-Class craft with a guide and could  definitely achieve it with assistance from some of the techs at the WSA, but it would certainly take a while. These were the good days for Mankind indeed. The days of peace and galactic progress well before the eventual major intergalactic conflict involving alien races and their armed forces. It had genuinely seemed to the people of Earth that man had conquered space; mastering it’s cold distant forces and to controlling it’s atmosphere with advanced technology. They had developed space suits with self replenishing oxygen, a man could practically live on an asteroid if he wanted. Theodore Backus was just one of the other billions of people who were wrong about how dangerous space could prove to be.

A brown official looking envelope resting on the hallway floor of Ted's apartment appeared glaring dully at him. Theodore examined it closely; indeed it was from the WSA as he had suspected, nobody other than the most officious bodies used physical post any more. Would today finally be the day? He tore open the ridged end of the envelope messily and quickly. He read the contents eagerly…
“Mr. Backus,
First may we thank you for your application to join the first manned mission to Mars. There were thousands of applicants from both Earth and the Moon, and we obviously are not required to inform you about the highest quality of all candidates. We are delighted to inform you however that you have been chosen by the WSA as part of the first manned mission to Mars. You will be serving the ship as both reserve pilot and ongoing logistical officer”
Theodore read eagerly on…
“May we offer you our proud congratulations. We must legally remind you however Mr. Backus of the specific terms regarding your employment. You may inform no press, no media from the Sphere and no individuals beyond your immediate family of your appointment to the crew of the Nexus-XII Craft. The privacy agreement is equally pertinent to your family and I think we need not remind you that if they endanger the mission in any way as well by publicly revealing your role, then you will be removed from the crew, denied your license and imprisoned. As per the application we recommend you fully minimise the details of what you inform even your closest family members. A high end WSA official will collect you from your home and take you to a secret location outside of Lunar-Port 2.
Congratulations and good luck”
The Moon was old news, he was going to Mars baby! The Red Planet itself.  He would be travelling further through space than any other man up until now. Adding up the miles of this trip with the hundreds of journeys he had made between Earth and the Moon Theodore realised that he would have to be amongst the highest individuals on the hypothetical list of furthest travellers. He would be a billionaire, in miles at least. His wife and child knew that a promotion at work could be a possibility; he didn’t tell either Anne, or Pete (his ten year old son) about anything to do with Mars however. They both wouldn’t mind he realised. They understood that a lot of travel was part of Ted’s job. It always disappointed him when Pete called him Ted. It was always a sharp but innocently made reminder that he wasn’t always around for either of them. Having said that it was more heartbreaking for him when Pete was actually looking up to him. The pressure of his kid thinking the world of him was really tough. Knowing that he would be having an affair at some point after checking into Lunar1 made his kid’s admiration more heartbreaking. His conscious had finally got to him though. He had sent a clear Vid-Screen message to his most frequent Lunar squeeze, Cheyenne, and committed himself to the upcoming life of monogamy. Getting back to the right state of being called Dad rather than Ted. Through this job he knew that the journey to Mars would finally mean he would be able to afford a big enough apartment in the affluent sector of the Moon for all of them. They would be a family together. A well off one to boot. Something still existed inside him, badly wanting to be there when his kid was growing up. He had certainly missed Anne and the regular, less expensive variant of love making. It was time for him to grow up he realised; to commit his life to his family rather than just random women and long glass cocktails.

Theodore looked up from the WSA hover cruiser he had been travelling in. He craned his neck to partially take in a gigantic example of a space craft. He doubted that he would ever see another object so unquestionably massive ever again. As a craft loving man he had to take a moment to really appreciate such a fine piece of work. The guy beside him noticed his fascination…
“Beautiful piece of work ain’t it?”
“Yeah it sure is” he replied, almost instantaneously.
He had hardly spoken to this chap since leaving sector-4 together, but at least he appreciated fine craftsmanship.
“It’s Ted, isn’t it?”
“Sure, what’s your name again”
“’Eddy. The maintenance officer on board that ship my friend. Hired externally by the WSA like yourself”
“Right, of course”, they had briefly and inanely spoken earlier during the journey.
“Man, I cannot wait to get back out into distant space again. Travelling further than any other damn craft ever on record. It is going to be freaking phenomenal!
“Yeah of course man”, he could only bother to reply quickly and simply. He looked out to the craft again. He was starting to get the jitters. The task really was enormous.
“Do you think we’ll find real, intelligent life?”
“Maybe” he hadn’t really thought about that. “Doubt it though”.
“I think there’ll be creatures like land turtles or something. Animals you know?”
“I guess so”
“Doubt there’ll be anything like us there! I mean the planet is so dry obviously. I’d heard rumours about caves though, you know like the catacombs in Paris or whatever”
“Right, underground maybe”
Thankfully the driver turned round to inform us we were only about two minutes away. There were so many entrances and gates it was impossible to tell where they would need to go and debrief. Gate 4993 turned out to be the answer.

The man addressing the group of the 7 hired WSA crew was a huge, hulking and impressive looking guy. He was a General Major in the Space Division of the US Army and looked like the toughest bastard in the known universe. He was muscular like a professional boxer or lumberjack maybe and had the booming voice of the hardest drill master. When he was talking, the crew fully listened and appeared scared to even blink.
“Right, so you individuals have all been chosen to serve on this WSA craft on the first manned mission to Mars” he rhetorically put. Somehow emphasizing the word individuals like he was referring to a bunch of Nazi war criminals.
“You have been deemed worthy, not be me I might add, of representing Earth and in particular the United States of America as an intergalactic presence. As per your agreements you must remain disciplined at all times both on board the ship, and off board. John and Marie, you will be the first faces that will meet any inhabitants of Mars. You have been well trained to be both friendly or hostile and I am confident you will do your duty”
“Thank you sir” both replied in unison.
Theodore was beginning to feel nervous and hugely out of place. He was becoming sweaty and twitchy. He hoped the Major wasn’t aware of his right foot tapping the ground consistently like some sort of pneumatic drill. He was also praying that he wouldn’t have to answer any questions in front of these people. They were very much a random assortment of individuals; Jack and Maria obviously looked and acted like G.I. Joe and Jane whilst the rest were an odd mix. The talkative guy in the cab, Eddy, looked as terrified as he felt. The stern looking officer had addressed him whilst the poor guy was shaking. Despite being a tall guy with a beefy structure, he still looked like a rabbit in headlights.
“Mr. Kovacs, you have been appointed as a result of being the leading private craft maintenance man available. We did have a military man arranged and appointed, but let us just say he failed certain tests that you did not”.
That explained  the Eddy‘s presence and job thankfully. Another guy to his left looked intelligent, kind of like a scientist or something. To his right there was an attractive middle aged man who looked very stern and serious. He was paying close attention to the Major General and must have been another military figure. Whilst the last individual he noticed in the briefing was an attractive lady that didn’t appear overly fascinated by the team talk. He guessed she was private and commercial too, like him and Kovacs.
“Dr. Anders…” he was clearly referring to the scientist looking guy, it wasn’t some sort of ESP from his part, the guy was wearing a lab coat he realised on second glance.
“You will be required to analyse any unusual samples we find on Mars. You will also be required to vid-scan any seemingly intelligent life forms apparent, to give Sergeants Smithson and Rawley the fullest preparation”. Theodore guessed he would have to refer to each of that couple now as Sergeant.
“Right, Captain Davis you have been chosen and closely trained to pilot the X-II Class Craft. We have full faith in your abilities.”
Davis was the stern looking guy evidently.
“Thank you sir”
The Major continued, unfortunately with him.
“Mr. Backus you are actually the most successful commercial pilot available. As a non military figure we couldn’t inform you of the additional tasks you may have to undertake up until now. You are indeed a last reserve to cover Captain Davis, but will also be required to pilot the escape pod should any emergencies happen. Needless to say Mr. Backus, you are not briefed to leave the X-Class craft”
That surprise from the Major General was not altogether welcome. He had been looking forward to stepping out on the Red Planet itself.
“Finally Ms. Phillips, you will be on board as the ship’s psychotherapist”
He knew there would be one onboard somehow.
“That is everyone introduced then crew. Know one another. This is only the initial briefing of course, and some socializing between yourselves has been scheduled to enable effective integration of your personalities. It is fair to say you have all been pysche-scanned and equally safe to say that you all passed the rigorous tests. This intergalactic mission should be no harder than most of the journeys you have all undertaken at some point. I wish you all a safe and successful mission”.

So these were the people he would have to spend two months with then, great. The ladies were attractive thankfully, though he guessed that the sexual tension between the military pair would prevent any action with Sergeant Rawley. Focus man! his brain reminded him. The psychotherapist, Phillips, was a very attractive lady too. She looked sexy in her black smart glasses and had blue alluring eyes. He remembered his pledge to be a better family man though. Besides, travelling through deep space in a confined craft wasn’t going to be good for his mojo. Then a worrying thought struck Theodore like a personalized bolt of lighting; if we are all so sane according to the pysche-scans than why do we need a psychotherapist? He guessed it was jut a precaution, a failsafe. But for such a small crew she seemed a luxury. Yeah, like a reserve escape pod pilot he thought. Any crew member, especially from the army, could be trained fast enough with takeoff and landings for basic jet powered craft, which the pods would undoubtedly be. Still they had wanted him, and with the money involved he had no complaints.

The socializing section of pre-mission training actually went better than he thought. The military people obviously congregated more with one another than the civilians, but still he didn’t feel totally ostracized by the military professionals. Eddy Kovacs, when not shitting himself or blabbing away was actually a nice guy. A real future drinking buddy, should they both survive the mission he thought. Dr. Kathy Phillips, as her full name was, introduced herself calmly and carefully to all of the crew. She had a real air of confidence about her, gliding from person to person making them feel individually very important. He met her more fully when walking down the main unit corridor, heading to get a hot drink.
Her opening statement totally startled Theodore.
“I know you Mr. Backus”
“Ah, how would that be then?” Theodore was racking his brain, until he remembered the worrying truth.
“We slept together on Earth about 12 years ago”
“Shit! Of course, Oh my God of course you, Kathy, damn”
“Well, I remembered it as being better than that; to be honest I don’t remember you as being my finest hour either. Still time doesn’t always guarantee accuracy” she replied, laughing quietly.
“No, of course. I mean it was great obviously”
“You didn’t tell me you were married”
“I wasn’t married at that time”
“No but you had a partner”
“How did you know that?
“Psychological profiling of all crew members Mr. Backus. I cross referenced the time we were together after recognizing your profile. If I had known of your partner then I would not have chanced such a relationship”
Theodore felt a flash of guilt before replying.
 “Hey, you weren‘t asking any questions of me that night…Kathy…right”?
“Yes, that was before I fully knew you”
He laughed at her reply, some lame excuse for doing the horizontal mambo with him. It takes two to tango he thought.
“Yeah, fully knew, good one Kathy”
“It’s Ms. Phillips now please Mr. Backus”
“You didn’t seem to mind darling the last time we met” Theodore replied, guilty of bringing up their past liaison. He couldn’t fully get rid of the playboy part of his mind however. He slept with her because he wanted to. Man, she looked just as good now as she did then.
“They were distinctly different circumstances Mr. Backus”
“ What as compared to now? Why did it have to be you on board?”
“Because of my full training in deep space psychological conditions Mr. Backus”
He began to worry about spending some time confined with this lady.
“Oh come off it, Ms Phillips there are about a hundred other professionals like yourself who could have taken the job. Surely if they knew about our past relations together they wouldn’t have let me or you on board. Come on what‘s going on, why are you torturing me?”
“I don’t want to torture you Theodore, I know about your family man plans after this mission, it is all in your pysche-scan results after all”
“Sure I believe that. But I didn’t think you could even risk a dormant sexual dynamic being allowed on board. I’d have been replaced if they had any idea about us. Man it must be too late now, it would cost billions upon billions for any delays. What were you thinking approving me after our time together?”
“They could replace you easily Mr. Backus and besides they don’t know about any potential problems between us, because I didn’t tell them about how I had slept with you 12 years ago. It‘s all in the past now”
“Well that’s just great Dr. Phillips. Now we have to pretend we don’t know each other on board. That‘s great, I‘m only human, now I have to put up with the ghost of a sexual relationship on board. Nothing can happen between us of course, I mean I still hardly know you”
She replied defensively, “I realise that. We have socialized together during preparation training however and I know you probably better than you know me”
“True but if anyone asks whether we have slept together, maybe you can just lie again”.
“That isn’t fair Theodore”
“No, you’re right I’m sorry. Look we’ll just react normally to one another. If you want to flirt with me, play with your hair, stuff like that because I’m so  irresistibly attractive that’s ok” he was exuding his complacent confidence side again. It had helped work like a charm quite a few times.
“Mr. Backus you are the third most attractive man on board, and the most stupid. If I do any flirting, you won’t be on the agenda”.
“Fine, then I wish you a good night”
As he was walking back down the corridor to his sleeping quarters, the reality of the situation came clear to him. Great he thought, an old flame who has it in for me. She’ll probably diagnose me as mad and leave me to rot on Mars with just space turtles or bacteria for company. I better not have slept with G.I Jane too, Theodore thought, her husband will kill me.

Strapped down preparing for take-off, Theodore felt like a prime cow waiting to visit the abattoir for the first and final time. Every inch of him was sweating profusely, the fluid stinging his eyes, which were still trying to search their take-off cabin for any hypothetical radiation leaks that could enter and slowly kill them. Or worse gas leaks that could lead to an initial explosion in the crew section of the ship, setting off a chain reaction that would eventually blow the Nexus X-II silently to smithereens before even leaving the Lunar-Port. He didn’t want to look at any of the others to see how comparably comfortable or terrified they were. It disturbed him no end to see the scientist, Dr. Anders praying to God. Great, even the experts are fearing for their lives he thought. His eyes wandered to Dr. Phillips as well, the sex pot come psychotherapist; she appeared to be repeating some sort of mantra. The G.I. couple were busy staring into one another’s eyes, like they were on a damn picnic or something. Kovacs was unsurprisingly mumbling and swearing to himself nervously. Ted could only make out “shit…deep space…no oxygen…old parts…no spare Nano-Engine”, he decided to ignore the madman in case his insanity spread into his conscious as well. Oh that’s no problem he thought, I’ve got a part time call girl who hates me to offer psychological advice.
Following 30 minutes of excruciating tension whilst the gigantic craft rocketed out of the Lunar-Port vertically a voice came through the main intercom, “You have passed through the initial problem stage guys, congratulations. The Nano-Engine is firing well and the co-ordinates have been well set by the Captain”
“Roger, WSA” Davis replied confidently. He was the only one not presently strapped in, and was sitting comfortably at the control panel. It was now travelling at a more reassuring angle. There could be no turning back he realised; Mars lay ahead.

Looking out absently from the far side view-point, Theodore was completely immersed visually and possibly even spiritually with the blackness of space, waiting blankly on the other side. The sight, if you could call it that, was truly mesmerizing. Outside was genuine and total darkness. Looking out from the view point was like squinting into an abyss. The massed nothing out there had evidently been there for light-years, existing as it always had and always would do. Apart from feeling this craft of course, he reminded himself. These were still exciting times for the progression of humanity, and despite the seemingly impending boredom of such a long journey, the crew had remained upbeat and talkative about the potential findings on Mars. I mean everyone on Earth had known for a very long time that the Moon would be uninhabited. We had been there for centuries, it was almost like another part of Earth, even in the ancient 20th Century. Dr. Anders, the scientist, kept talking away at length to everyone onboard about what could potentially be out there on that planet, and indeed what he expected to see.
“Just think about the possibilities of seeing genuinely new creatures!” he kept exclaiming.
“There could be life out there shaped like nothing we have ever seen before. Just envisage the situation if bacteria itself were to evolve”
Dr. Phillips interjected herself.
“But it has done Dr. Anders. Over centuries and probably millennia on Earth. Just think of Spanish flu, or the plague, or smallpox. Bacteria has indeed always reacted to changing conditions on Earth. What would be so special about a flu virus on Mars?”

“You aren’t thinking laterally Dr. Phillips. I am referring to bacteria not a flu virus per se. Imagine if a huge collection of bacteria, billions upon billions of large cells collecting, morphing and evolving together, consider how it would appear. Now this may seem far fetched but I believe we could encounter floating creatures of some sort, created from hugely massed bacteria”   
“That seems rather far fetched Dr. Anders”

“No hear me out please Dr. Phillips; I refer not to just clouds of bacteria but rather to literally complete creatures akin to Jellyfish, sentient beings that thrive on the atmosphere as opposed to the conditions of the sea”
Sergeant Smithson joined in, “Well I guess that may be plausible. After all we have received no visual reconnaissance about any large life forms on Mars, maybe some could be different to what we expect.”.
His partner joined in “Besides, jellyfish should be easier to kill than the aliens in movies”
“Good one babe” he returned.
Eddy joined in the conversation, “I still think they would be large, and sturdy creatures to survive on that place. I mean there is no water we can see. They would have to be alien camel types or something to live on the surface. You know they could be roaming around on there, we just haven‘t scanned any yet”.
Dr. Anders began to control the conversation again.
“People, you are also forgetting about how we expect to find an underground eco-system. Literally we have only scratched the surface of Mars and we expect to find out far more now than in any previous unmanned missions to Mars combined. We have infinitely greater resources”, Dr. Anders was sounding far bolder than he did when they were taking off.  
“What do you think Theodore?” Dr. Phillips kindly asked him,
“I don’t know. I mean I probably think we won’t find anything out there. Like on the Moon you know.”
Eddy looked like he was going to intervene. Theodore continued however.
“These places you know, they just don’t seem to offer the conditions for any kind of life. That bacteria idea is interesting Dr. Anders, but I mean I just don’t believe it”.
“I don’t either” Eddy agreed .
“I think you guys should trust our scientific advisor” Sergeant Smithson intervened.
Theodore was compelled to reply, “Hey just because Dr. Anders is a scientist, doesn’t guarantee he knows about what life on Mars will be like, Sergeant. No offence Doc”
“None taken Mr. Backus”

“I mean we are still millions of light years away at this point anyway. We have no idea at all what could be there as of yet, the previous unmanned missions didn’t show us anything as you know. I think we‘ll just be the same, you know?”
“I have no ownership on the truth Mr. Backus, and indeed you may be right. Who knows, maybe Mr. Kovacs could be right with his, what was it, camel theory?”.
Kovacs replied excitedly “Yeah true doc. I’m telling you alien camels or something like that will be there waiting there”
Dr. Phillips started laughing quietly
Theodore turned to her, and talked to her quietly
“Hey, Dr. Phillips shouldn’t you be supportive of us normal crew members”
“I am Theodore. Come on, alien camels? It just isn’t going to happen. That guy Eddy, is practically a sub-norm”
“Hey give him a break, what do you know about Mars anyway? There could be a tribe of Machu-Pichu banditos waiting there having traveled through time you know?”
She didn’t have time to speak but looked at Theodore the same way she had done with Eddy; Dr, Anders turned his attention to the pair of them,
“Hey you two, have you got anything important to share?“
“No, not at all Dr. Anders“ Theodore calmly replied, “We were just talking about deep space psychosis and how to manage it“
“Right yes I understand, we‘ve had that talk“ he replied smiling at Dr. Phillips in an overly friendly manner.
Theodore enjoyed it. “She is great huh, Dr?” He enquired knowing it would infuriate Kathy.
“Of course, she is wonderful and may I also say beautiful”
Having said this his expression turned bashful and he turned his attention back to the others, going on again and about his theories for the evolution of bacterial life.
Phillips then whispered back to him,
“Theodore Backus, I think I can safely diagnose you as an intelligent idiot”
He laughed quietly, keeping a low radar from the others
“Well you chose at some point to be intimate with me, Dr. Phillips, so I guess we aren‘t too dissimilar”.
“That was just a one-off bad decision. You are a bit more continuously idiotic”
“Hey thanks” she was right of course.
“You are scheduled for a session with me early next week too by the way”
“Great, I knew it would come at some point”.
“It’s standard. You won’t get any special treatment for me”
“I definitely know that”
“Excuse me?”
“Nothing Doc. Sure I’ll attend your pow-wow and unload all my big psychological defects to you. You manage to fit a leather couch in here?”
She smiled. “No couch. Look it will do you good. Didn’t you see how much more relaxed Dr. Anders has been?”
“That your handiwork again?”
“Not like that Mr. Backus”
Anders had glanced upon picking up his name, but was now busy talking to Kovacs about why alien camels would be unlikely to live on Mars.
“I’m going to enjoy analyzing you Mr. Backus”
He knew she would. Theodore began to worry more about his mind being shown up rather than the dark reaches of outer space. It was another irrational fear of his. 

The loud startling alarm made Theodore leap up from his bed. What the hell was this about? He made his way instinctively to the entrance to the escape pod. Dr. Phillips and Dr. Anders were waiting there, the others were still in the main technical areas evidently stupidly trying to sort out the situation, whatever it was. There had not been the time the appropriate conditions to practice emergency drills so far and the alarm had shocked Theodore. He calmed himself though; there was a general procedure to follow and he thought all crew had to follow it. He was annoyed not all of them went to the escape pod immediately, he would hate to have the decision of leaving people if there was a genuine disaster. Thankfully after another thirty seconds the alarm stopped.
Dr. Phillips asked him excitedly “Do you think it’s over? Do you think that the military guys stopped it?”
It was actually Eddy who came down to the three of them waiting desperately by the escape pod. Theodore actually felt a bit ashamed he was so quick to get to the escape pod really, despite being the escape pod pilot; surely he should have helped the others? What if there had been an internal fire or someone had been seriously injured? He felt a bit impotent and was reminded of his limitations on this mission.
“It’s okay guys, no problems now. I didn’t know what was wrong at first, but it turned out the mainframe system had fully shut down briefly”
“Fully shut down? What; you’ve got to be kidding me?” Dr Anders enquired
“No I’m not Anders, we got back online okay though. That isn’t the problem. I’m not meant to tell you this, but they have lost the saved co-ordinates to the landing area of Mars”
“What?!” Dr. Anders appeared apoplectic.
“Calm down Howard” Kathy calmly informed him. She turned to Kovacs…
“These things can happen, I was informed during my training. You were right to inform us of the situation Eddy. I also know that Captain Davis almost knows the co-ordinates to Mars by heart. He has simulated this mission to a frankly unhealthy degree. These types of problems have been hypothesized, entered into the simulator and worked on. Captain Davis will know which backup files to search for, do not worry.” She was addressing Dr. Anders more than Eddy.
Sergeant Rawley came down the corridor looking terrified.
“What is wrong, Maria?” Dr. Phillips instinctively and kindly asked.
“It…It’s John.”
“Okay, calm down Sergeant Rawley. What is wrong with John?”
“He has…I mean we can’t….”
“Come on Sergeant tell us damn it!” Dr. Anders was lacking compassion and patience under stress, Phillips knew if anyone would begin to crack it would be Dr. Howard Anders.
“He’s disappeared”

Theodore soon gathered that there was bad news when he met Kovacs in his sleeping quarters. The guy looked more pale faced and terrified than any one else he had ever seen in his life. This was no mean feat either, having piloted some of the earliest and bumpiest journeys from Earth to the main Lunar-Ports. Hell Eddy looked even more terrified than the man who actually died of a heart attack on one of his more turbulent flights had.
He decided to try and politely probe the guy though, try and get an idea of what was going on before hearing it from Dr. Phillips.
“You aren’t going to believe this Ted, but Smithson, the Sergeant…he’s disappeared”.
“What? That’s impossible Eddy, the escape pod is still there and we haven’t had any holes blown into the side of this thing, so he hasn’t gone anywhere. He may have got scared too and gone to where he’s hidden some booze, or maybe where he has an excess of mood pills you know?”
“They’ve searched everywhere. Besides, everyone had a chip inserted into their arm during the medical, so the maintenance team, in other words me and ironically Sergeant Smithson could know roughly were everyone was on the ship”.
“Woah, hang on then Kovacs, surely when the mainframe went down the programme running the location of our microchips went down”
“Maybe initially, for like half an hour or something, but the programme is back online now. Everyone else is registered and clearly in the right place. It’s just, you know Smithson who’s disappeared”.
“Okay” Theodore thought things over, trying to stay calm and rationalise.
“Maybe, Eddy, Sergeant Smithson knew about where his microchip was planted…”
“I guess he did, sure he was more briefed than I was being military. He was actually the one  that told me all about the microchips and how we would need to monitor where everyone was. Kind of ironic really”
“Sure, sure. Anyway, so you know personally that he was already aware of these microchips. Now, I don’t want to think the worst, but if he didn’t want to be seen when avoiding duty on the craft or be seen because he was having a breakdown on his own an argument with his wife, then maybe he could have physically remove the chip and destroyed it”.
“Maybe. He wasn’t a guy who would betray the crew though I know that. Those things are so tiny Ted, it would be impossible”
“Come on Kovacs, somewhere in the lab there must be an incredibly powerful microscope, you know for all the germ monsters we are going to meet”
Eddy quietly laughed at that; thankfully he was looking a bit more relaxed and nodded.
“Then you know he could find where this device is and remove it. I’ll ask him to do it for us too when he returns huh? Maybe then us guys can all try and find a bar or some alien hookers, sound good Kovacs?”
He chuckled again, “Sure maybe. Guess you’re right, man. It’s just the pressure, you know, of being out here with so much darkness all around”.
He knew where Eddy Kovacs was coming from. After calming the one maintenance man apparently left there on the ship, he decided to search everywhere on the ship, praying that he would find Sergeant Smithson.

When he finally found Sergeant John Smithson after four hours of continued searching, he definitely wished he hadn’t. He was there in one of the loading bays, lying face down, shaped like a man who had been made of pipe wire and subsequently formed into a grotesque statue. He was definitely dead; that much was clear before he even checked for any signs of a pulse. Damn, Kathy would have a hell of a task explaining this to Rawley, he didn’t envy her job at this moment. Kovacs had explained to the rest of the crew that Ted was looking for the location of Sergeant Smithson. He had relayed to all the remaining living members of the ship the theories that Theodore had wrongly developed about the location of Smithson. Hopefully most of the crew would still think that Smithson was simply drunk or something, or that in the worse case scenario he was involved in an accident or something. Yeah, an accident involving a deadly alien chiropractor he thought. Unfortunately Ted knew he had too quickly come to believe his hopelessly optimistic point that Sergeant Smithson somehow removed his tiny microchip that told the mainframe where he was. He knew his stupid optimism would spread and that the impact of the mangled dead body would increase the upset to already delicate minds. When Dr. Phillips came down to see what Theodore was doing, (his pulse on the mainframe having been motionless in a land craft loading bay and thus causing concern as well), she had gasped in shock and horror at the startlingly dead form of Sergeant Smithson. If he hadn’t been there, Ted was certain that the good doctor would have screamed out loud in the large craft and beyond the thick steel structure into the void of space. He was close to doing so himself when first seeing that damn body.
After a pause that seemed to last an eon, Dr. Phillips finally addressed him.
“When did you discover him like this? “
“About half an hour ago. I was… I guess I was looking around the room for clues you know”
“Right. I understand if you are in shock”
“No, no, I’m not in shock. I mean, I was scared initially you know, just in case he was killed and mutilated like that by some sort of atmosphere leak or something in this bay”
“Understandable Mr. Backus”
“But you know after about twenty minutes or so I discounted that”
“What do you think happened Mr. Backus?” for the first time since he had known her, she sounded anxious
“I don’t know Doctor, I mean we can be fairly sure it isn’t murder. Maybe one of those bacterial creatures Dr. Anders was going on about came onto the craft and killed him”
“Whatever you do, don’t tell Howard that” she replied looking a bit more stable.
“Yeah, he’d be both elated and terrified”, Theodore wanted to calm her, and himself down a bit.
She smiled briefly “Indeed, that would not be a helpful psychological mix under the current circumstances”
“True, I guess those emotions aren‘t so different really”
“Look Mr. Backus, you do know you’re going to need an extensive mental assessment after witnessing such a traumatic event don‘t you?”
“I didn’t see him die Kathy, it wasn‘t me undergoing the trauma”
“I know that Mr. Backus, but I must inform you that you will also require psychological assessment. It will be a comparable treatment to his wife”
“Shit, I bet she hasn’t heard the news about the body yet. She’s going to be devastated”
“I realise. Look I was sent down to see you here by the others. They, and I to be honest, had assumed you were having some sort of nervous breakdown”
“Hey, thanks, I’m that mentally unstable huh?”
“It’s not a personal insult Mr. Backus”
“Theodore please”
“Right, well it wasn’t a personal insult Theodore”
“It is now, considering we’re on first name terms” he replied, looking mischievous.
She smiled at one of his silly, convoluted jokes. He wasn’t totally mad at least; maybe a bit infuriating but probably not insane. Kathy Phillips worried that wouldn’t be the case with Sergeant Rawley.

“What had happened to Sergeant Smithson, Theodore? Come on, I know that you found something important by that loading bay. Tell us the truth.” Dr. Anders sounded and looked desperately worried.
“I’m sorry Dr. Anders I can only tell you that the Sergeant was dead when I looked in loading bay B.”
“I want to see the body, Dr. Phillips”
“Sorry, no can do Howard. You know that if any fatalities take place on board the Nexus then the body is placed in the onboard morgue, awaiting an autopsy back on the Moon or on Earth in an emergency”
“I would say that losing a key member of staff was an emergency Dr. Phillips, I think we should head back to the Moon, right away. I mean has the Captain even reprogrammed the co-ordinates yet?”
“Look calm down please Dr. Anders. I have spoken to the Captain and we will not be turning the craft back any time soon; as I have mentioned the body will have an autopsy when we reconnect with either home base”
“It’s interesting though, Kathy, that you already knew that dead bodies can’t be examined here on the craft”
“I don‘t know what you are referring to Dr. Anders. I need to know many protocols for emergencies”
“You should know what I refer to Dr. Phillips. Another medical professional with more experience dealing with human corpses should have been called on. The situation should have demanded a second opinion prior to the movement of the body to the morgue, I know certain protocols as well“
“Please Dr. Anders calm down. I understand the many psychological and personal reasons for your paranoia Howard I really do. Your mind state is totally understandable. You should know, paranoia is one of the main side-effects of isolation in confined areas over a period of time, as opposed to be jst anything wrong with you per se”
“Come off it Doctor, you are being presumptive and unprofessional. So for wanting to know how a colleague died, I’ve been branded as paranoid”
“Come on that isn’t the case Dr. Anders. Look, please speak more to Mr. Backus; he discovered the body and knows about as much  I do. I should also not need to remind you either Dr. Anders that you were with me during a pysche-discussion when the body was found. Neither of us are suspects”.
“Suspects? You think Smithson was murdered?”
“Please calm down Howard. Nobody is certain about how he died. Tensions are high on such a ship. Please talk to Theodore, you’ll thank me now if maybe not later”

Theodore knew that as Dr. Anders approached him whilst he was drinking a stale coffee, that the doc was going to question him at length about Smithson’s death. He let the cogs in his brain whir round until they resembled a state reasonably ready to deal with the onslaught of questions he probably  wouldn’t have the answer to.
“He was murdered wasn’t he Theodore? Come on you should tell me now“ Great start, what do you want me to tell you he thought.
“Have you found any evidence? You know, any knives, any spots of blood that we can test, any fingerprints you’ve dusted? You should really tell me Mr. Backus, I am the leading doctor in terms of physical diagnosis”
“Come on, calm down a bit Dr. Anders. Sure there is a chance that Sergeant Smithson was murdered…”
“I knew it!”
“Hear me out… but the murderer definitely couldn’t have come from this ship. Or at least, he wasn’t one of the crew”
“What makes you think it was a he?”
Anders made a good point amongst the babble.
“Look, the body when it was found was grotesquely positioned. Like he’d had a massive, full body seizure. The damage just couldn‘t have been done by any human, or any machine I know of either”
“You do know Theodore that those types of convulsions can be created with the right, or should I say, wrong medication”
He unfortunately didn’t. Damn questions began to start on his own comprehension of the death of Sergeant Smithson.
“Look, I hear what you’re saying doc, but I just know it wasn’t anyone on board, don’t ask me why”
“Well that’s the case settled with” he sarcastically retorted.
“I didn’t say that doc. Like I told Dr. Phillips, your fellow medically qualified buddy, maybe it was an advanced creature from beyond our knowledge killing him… like maybe a bacterial being”
“Ha, I didn’t think anyone was listening to me then”
“Come on, I wasn’t fully doc, it’s just there could be much more to this one death than plain old murder. If you’d have seen the body like me then you’d be agreeing”
“Maybe Mr. Backus, but need I remind you I have seen more dead bodies than you will ever hopefully witness. Not too much would surprise me on the matter. Maybe homicidal bacterial jellyfish though” he smiled and looked a bit more relaxed. Theodore guessed he was on the cusp of saying something important. He was also certain that Dr. Anders wouldn’t have been so blasé had he seen that broken human puppet lying there, it’s limp form looking like Geppeto had never existed. He should have seen it; legally as well as morally really. Maybe the slightly unstable Dr. Anders did have a point about rushing the body off to the morgue. Was it really due to regulations? Dr. Phillips hadn’t even told the Captain before sending the body to the morgue.
“You should know I’ve had dealings with Dr. Kathy Phillips in the past Mr. Backus”,
“What, really?” somehow Theodore guessed that was it.
“That sounds rather ominous doc, you‘re worrying me”
“Well, it was only really very brief dealings. It wasn’t even a personal encounter. It certainly wouldn’t show up in my pysche-scan analysis or personal data search”
“Oh come on, spit it out man, what do you know about the good doctor?”
“During the initial briefing I had thought that her face looked familiar…”
“So, during a quiet moment in the socializing session we so painfully had to endure, I thought I’d check the Medi-Sphere archived news network on my mobile vid-screen”
“They still let you keep that? Mine was taken”
“I had hidden mine in my shoe. Can’t be without the thing for too long! They were monitoring our thoughts with a basic scanner anyway I should inform you Mr. Backus”
“Guessed so. That’s why they didn’t mind the mobile vid-screen unit you had then?”
“Yes indeed. The military couple had their’s too during the session and were making calls to their family or whatever”
“Come on doc, tell me more about Phillips”, Theodore really was getting impatient to know more details. He had slept with her after all, and he had unloaded some close secrets to her during one of the on board pysche-evaluations.
“Get this” Dr. Anders was sounding like the biggest gossip in the universe, let alone WSA Nexus X-II; “the innocent and lovely Dr. Kathy Phillips has previously been arrested on suspicion of… murder”
“What? You are joking” He thought someone like Kathy Phillips would prefer to diagnose a fly of it’s problems rather than try and hurt it.
“No unfortunately not; there hasn’t been an appropriate moment to inform anyone I trust”
“This is ridiculous Doc; any charges of murder must discount her from being a suitable psychotherapist at any time, let alone on a deep space high pressure mission involving the US Military?”
“Yes, it sounds somewhat bad. She was cleared of all charges I guess”
“Oh right, then she’s totally innocent. Damn, I slept with that woman, sheesh I‘m lucky to be alive”
“Sorry, what did you say Theodore”
“Oh, nothing doc. Come on, what can you tell me about the case”
“Well, the man who died was one of her patients”
“Sounds familiar”
“Yes, and well this individual was found hung in his room. He had used a length of rope”
“That doesn’t sound like a murder scenario doc”
“You haven’t heard the good bit yet… On the man’s body were, oh what to call them, I guess love bites”
“Ok” again that sounded scarily familiar again.
“And in his blood stream were high amounts of the drug Difapium”
“Difapium, what? Come on you’ve got to give me info doc, I’m not a fellow scientist what does this stuff do?”
“The drug is used to release all inhibitions. It leaves the individual massively suggestive and vulnerable. The drug is only subscribed to bedridden M.E. patients or those with previously incurable agoraphobia”
“Which presumably our innocent victim suffered from neither?”
“So they think she gave it to him?”
“Well put it this way,  the police knew that she was with the victim the evening of his death, they knew that she was carrying a quantity of Difapium and that, oh you’ve got to get this, that she had a history of dating vulnerable patients”
“You’ve got to be kidding me” suddenly he felt like she had hunted him down at that bar and not vice versa. His sense of pride was stung yet again by Dr. Phillips.
“Can you see why I have been so suspicious of her Mr. Backus?”
“Well yeah certainly now doc”.
“Yes. I would prefer it if you did not inform the captain, and without question not Sergeant Rawley of this information”
Shit, indeed the now ex-wife of Sergeant Smithson. She may completely lose it and give her own judgment on Dr. Phillips. The captain too may put them in the quarantined area, which had been earmarked as a cool down cell, or in this case a makeshift prison. Theodore decided to head back to his room, and try and calm down. Two hours later nothing had changed.

Three hours later however another major incident happened. The intercom situated just above his head on the bunk bed loudly informed him of the Captain’s request for all ’available’ crew members to attend to the Captain’s area. Having stuck on the nearest pair of trousers and the uniform shirt, Theodore walked as quickly as his lanky legs would carry him to the main piloting quarters presided over by Captain Davis. He was already addressing most of the crew when Theodore joined what was left of the group. Something was up, immediately he could tell, when he turned to see the Captain speak he had unfortunately already worked out the problem.
“I must report to you crew, that unfortunately at present Mr. Edward Kovacs has become M.I.A”
“What? Not him as well, we’re running out of crew captain” Sergeant Rawley sounded fearful, the thought of her husband’s very recent death and disappearance still prominent within her mind.
Dr. Phillips, the once suspected murderer Theodore thought, replied quickly to Rawley.
“Please calm down Sergeant Rawley. I totally understand your tension, I think the whole crew does” the crew were all nodding in unison, most of them looking slightly confused and terrified as well bar the Captain, who gave nothing away.
Theodore began thinking to himself. Another crew member disappearing was very bad news. If Kovacs couldn’t be found, there would be no-one able to effectively repair the mainframe system that really controlled everything from the intercom to oxygen levels then disaster could strike from countless bloody problems. He somehow felt thoroughly redundant. Great, he thought, two available pilots and only one technician. The problem somehow seemed familiar. He began to seriously panic upon realising that another mainframe shutdown akin to the last one could mean either permanent or catastrophic potential loss of co-ordinates to either Mars or the home bases; not to mention the loss of some or all Nano-Engines. Sure some back up generators could cover the oxygen levels at least for about a week, and lighting on the craft would stay on for about a month after full mainframe shutdown which was great design he thought. Plenty of lights to show aliens where any dead bodies where. If another disaster struck and they were still without Eddy, the ship could theoretically travel through space until the end of eternity, with all crew members on board either disappeared, killed by a murderous psychotherapist or devoured by the bacterial jellyfish that had been sailing the seven seas of outer space looking to pillage any passing intergalactic crafts. Theodore put that thought aside, knowing now was not the time to even think about joking. He was calm somehow despite fully knowing the fact that if Eddy Kovacs was either not discovered or found seriously injured in any way, shape or form, then the mission to Mars would probably be thoroughly screwed,
The loud, long and painful scream that echoed throughout the ship came from Sergeant Rawley, who had gone back to investigate the loading bay where her once husband and now infamously deformed corpse, Sergeant John Smithson, had been found. Theodore obviously realised that Eddy Kovacs had been found in a similar circumstance to the recently deceased Sergeant. Without thinking, Theodore decided to go down there again to see what scenario had happened this time. He hoped that the body didn’t look the same, the scream from Maria indicated otherwise however. He approached the loading bay with a fair degree more trepidation this time. He was simultaneously scared and disappointed in himself for finding the place so vaguely horrifying. One body was an accident, two were suspicious he thought. Especially if those two bodies were found on a space craft containing just seven crew members and in the very same area to boot. His suspicions and fears were high. Could Dr. Phillips really be involved in these deaths? Could Dr. Anders be fully trusted? Was the Captain a problem, or maybe the bereaved former wife and current Sergeant Maria Rawley was to blame? He felt ashamed of himself for suspecting all of the crew members however briefly. He was fairly certain however that neither death was the result of assisted suicide, which probably ruled out Dr. Phillips.
When he got there, Sergeant Rawley had Dr. Anders pinned against the wall.
“Why did you let him die?” She was clearly beyond emotional.
“Please, Sergeant Rawley, Maria, I didn’t let anyone die. Mr. Kovacs was found by yourself in the same condition as your husband, I do appreciate that. The stress and worry you are experiencing must be considerable. But I let neither of them die. Had I witnessed, their seizures I would have endeavoured to intervene with the full range of medical options I have available”
He had gained a sudden calmness in disaster, Dr. Phillips however was quietly beginning to unravel.
“We don’t have enough crew. The damn WSA were wrong about minimizing group dynamics, they were bloody wrong!”
Theodore decided to intervene and pulled Dr. Phillips quietly aside. Thankfully Dr. Anders remained busy, briefing both the Captain and Sergeant Rawley on what he knew about the Kovacs body and the information regarding Smithson. Theodore waited until he and Dr. Phillips were out of sight of the others before addressing the once composed health professional in front of him.
“Please calm down Kathy. Now isn’t the time to lose your composure. Sergeant Rawley is suffering from both some sort of extreme guilt and maybe post stress syndrome”
“Post traumatic stress syndrome”
“Yes, that’s the one. She may be suffering from that. You of all people need to have a clear mind to be able to speak to her and ensure that she will be ready for arriving on the surface of Mars”
“But, what if I can’t keep my thoughts together Theodore? What if I can’t do? Maybe I can’t calm her down.”
“You will be fine Dr, Phillips”
“But what if we don’t make it to Mars? I mean Sergeant Smithson is dead, Eddy Kovacs is dead, people keep dying on me! What if I’m next? What then?”
“Calm down, you won’t be. No one else is going to die. I have already decided to stay here in the loading bay until we reach Mars”
“What you’re insane? They were both discovered there, dead, and you know in what sort of condition, why do you want to die like that?”
“Hey, you know I don’t want to die like that. Please calm down; look if there is something there, living in that loading bay busy picking off crew members, then I’m going to be the person that hunts it down”
“It killed the Sergeant and Eddy, Theodore. They were bigger men than yourself.
“Agreed, but neither of them were ready to face an enemy. This time I will be”
“You are insane Theodore”
“I’m sure my records show that” he had made his mind up. He tried to calm Dr. Phillips down anyway, for good relations long-term.
“Anyway, I’m really tired now of people dying here on board, so I won’t move from that place until I find out who or what has been killing our people”
 “And kill it?”
“Well stop it at least Dr. Phillips, I may not be able to kill it. Go and tell the others I’ve decided to keep guard. As you probably know, only Eddy could get hold of the security vids for the loading bay. However if you want to keep yourself busy, may I suggest you try and find the video for when both of these men were killed. Then come back to me with what you know”
“Will do, Theodore”
“Good, now go and give a pysche-evaluation to Sergeant Rawley, she clearly needs it. I’m going to sit here and wait for whatever is out there”

He had only been in the loading bay twenty minutes when then there was the flash. Theodore had no idea about what had just happened to him. One moment he was sitting on a makeshift stool in the loading bay area and the next his life literally flashed before his eyes. He witnessed his infancy, pre school years, adolescent years, pilot training years, meeting his wife, his child being born, getting the letter about the Mars trip, and then briefly nothing. It was an instantaneous moment of pure nothing. For one millisecond it felt to Theodore like he had never existed. One second he had seen his entire life, the next he felt as if that life were not his own and he did not truly exist as himself or indeed as any other entity in the universe. The sensation was strange but also transcendental; like he had glimpsed the true meaning of existence but had then seconds later been made to forget it. What was going on? he thought upon reconfiguring his thoughts. He guessed he wasn’t dead like the others, and he could still strangely perceive his body which was clearly and seriously damaged. Sprawled wildly like the others, There was just one more small problematic detail with situation he realised, in addition to the mauling. He was floating on his own in outer space. When he realised the fullness of the situation, which came about a millisecond after his life had been shown, Theodore began to panic insanely. He thought he wasn’t breathing for one moment, like he couldn’t breath, like he had never been taught how to and was simply going to die for the damn stupid reason of  not learning how to breathe. It was then that the voice came to him; calmly and with authority it reminded him, ‘you know how to breathe Theodore”.

Floating in the pure air of space, the once massive ship was now just another lost dream. Theodore felt certain that he had died. This wasn’t possible; there was no air to breathe out in space, out here, in the vast wastes of deepest nothing. The voice returned jolting him briefly from another existential stupor.
“Theodore, you should know that your crew mates have not died. They still live and exist as you know them”
But they were so badly mangled he thought, they looked like still, motionless human puppets, waiting for strings to be added and movement given to their pliant limbs. What was happening?
“You should know that on the ship, you will be in the same condition as the others. This will last until the Captain turns away from Mars”
What he thought, so I’m dead too? He decided to try and communicate with this entity, angry that it had appeared to take the lives of two fellow crew members and was now instructing them to turn away from their destination.
“You, Theodore, will tell the Captain and Dr. Anders that both Sergeant John Smithson and Edward Kovacs are still alive. You will inform them that they had suffered toxic shock, upon dealing with the micro particle remnants of ionized fuel that had been left following a tiny leak in one of your land cruisers. You will be out of the state by the time anyone comes to find you. You are required to bring the two of them out of the morgue and to get the Captain to reprogramme the co-ordinates for the Moon”
Theodore was still shocked. He had no idea what this voice was, what it was instructing. Were the two dead crew members really still alive? Had this creature bought them back to life itself, in the same way it evidently killed them?
“Theodore, you must know that the Captain will not be able to take this craft any further towards  Mars”
“What, why? Why are you interfering with this mission? I need to know why you are messing with our lives, killing people and then just bringing them back. What are you? What do you want?” 
“I do not want Mr. Backus. All I can inform you of my actions is that I have the knowledge that man is not yet ready to truly know beyond himself. Perhaps the mysteries of the universe will one day become apparent or available to your species but for now they will remain unknown”.
Are you God, he asked the voice.
“No. I am not Theodore. If I was God talking directly to you, you would have ceased to conceive of yourself and would be an abstract being.
He didn’t understand the voice. He didn’t understand anything of what had just happened. He tried to speak to the voice again,
“Look Mr. not God, if you are not the main man himself, what we know of as the Prime Lord, which I’m guessing your at least partly omnipresent brain is aware of, then who are you?”
“I am the beginning of the unknown. As you would put it, I am ’partly omnipresent’
Then you can tell me why we cannot travel to Mars then, since countless thousands of billions have been spent.
“You, as a species, are not yet ready to fully know the further opportunities and dangers that will be available should on and beyond Mars”
What, this is ridiculous Theodore thought. No ’partly omnipresent’ voice had damn well interfered when they colonised the moon. It hadn’t interfered when America was being discovered, yeah unless you count the Mormons his brain briefly chuckled, and hey it certainly didn’t intervene when the Nazis were killing thousands upon thousands of innocent Jewish people so why now? Why now should the big man, Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, the damn Prime Lord himself, why has he now intervened to stop mankind actually progressing?
The voice inevitably replied.
“As you know Theodore, I am not God. I can tell you though that I was unable to communicate with the other two as I have done with yourself. They were not able to believe”
So then you killed them he thought, angrily.
“Please calm down Mr. Backus, as you know they are still alive”
Why have you engaged with me, like this? he began to consider. Why not the Captain or the troubled pyschotherapist, why not them?
“You have provided the answers we were looking for”
What answers? he thought. Surely it couldn’t judge the human race on the basis of engagement with just him and a couple of other crew members from the damn Nexus X-II. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. He began to think maybe they should have had a priest on board; scientific calculations however had shown that with the pyschotherapist, it wouldn’t be necessary. They got that bit wrong too. The voice then intervened mid thought…
“Do you truly believe Mr. Backus, that the mysteries of space, of myself and of the unknown to your species would be revealed through a priest?”
No, he didn’t think that either.
“As I have mentioned, your species is not ready for such knowledge. It may come when you stop to rely upon machines in the manner you do; I can inform you that at least”.
“But without ‘machines‘, neither I nor the other two crew members could have contacted yourself, we wouldn’t damn well be in space at all. We would be in the dust and the dirt of Earth again, simply looking up to the heavens. We would not be able to speak to an advanced creature, or spirit, whatever this voice was.
“That you believe this to be so represents the limitations of your species Mr. Backus. I shall remain in contact with the Earth and the Moon, waiting and hoping for the day of your true enlightenment. You are a well designed and technically very capable race; yet you remain unable to truly consider the unknown itself. As such I cannot allow you to engage with the world as it exists beyond yourself and Mars”.
With that, Theodore was transported back into loading bay B. He knew that he would have to inform the crew slowly and carefully that Sergeant Smithson and Eddy Kovacs were actually still alive albeit unconscious in their new and narrow morgue homes. He would give the others the apparently true reason about the ionized leak that  would claim to have cleared whilst wearing a chem-suit. He would also have to explain to the Captain about the need to turn back to home base. His reason would be simple; due to the mainframe system going off line calculations had changed and we would now not be able to make it to Mars due incorrect fuel limits. Later he would find out that the Captain had apparently confided in to Dr. Phillips that this was his greatest fear for the journey. It was as good as an excuse as any thankfully. No-one apart from himself would recall the contact with a being of the truly unknown. No-one would know the first and possibly last time that Man had communicated with space. Theodore  began to ready himself for the journey back; he was ready to believe in his family this time.

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