By the year 2060, mankind is on the verge of bringing Terra to her knees. The population has exploded, and land for cattle and crops has been sacrificed for housing and employment for the more than fifteen billion souls now living on the planet. Synthetic food is created in plants, and the remaining animals are kept in zoos and game preserves of the wealthy. In an effort to insure the survival of mankind, spaceships are sent to explore Terra’s nearest neighbors, Mars and Venus, but will it be too little too late?
The four men who took the MRM to Mars have high hopes, until on their return home they travel through a magnetic field that crashes them… somewhere. As they explore the unknown world with its dangers, Doc, Nick, Hank, and Ed will struggle to come to terms with their new reality and find their own paths to happiness.
I swiped a sleeve across my mouth. Jesus, I must have slept wrong; I had a crick in my neck. I'd catch a shower and hit the mess hall, and ...
And then I remembered what had happened.
"Doc?" How long ago had I blacked out? Minutes? Hours? "Doc!"
I struggled to unfasten the straps that had kept me safely in place in order to get to him. The Emmy had come to rest at an angle, the port side lower than the starboard, and I staggered to where Doc's seat was still reclined.
"Oh, my head," he moaned. "I've got the world's worst headache."
"Is that all? Stand in line." I was so relieved he was still alive I could have kissed him. He had about twenty-five years on me, and the kind of pressure that had weighed down my chest could have damaged his heart.
"What the hell happened?" Ed moaned.
"You're the pilot," I reminded him sourly. "You can explain it to me."
"We're ... uh ... we're not moving."
"Nice deduction, Sherlock. Doc." I crouched beside his seat. "How are you doing?" I pressed fingers against the pulse in his neck. It was steady, and I almost collapsed in relief. "Come on. Let me help you up."
"Oh, Jesus! Would you look at this?" Hank was white as a sheet and shaking.
"What is it?" Ed got to him. "Oh, my sweet Christ." He started shaking too.
I managed to get Doc to his feet, and we lurched across the canted flooring. Hank and Ed were staring in dismay at the acceleration indicator. It was marked in increments of miles per second and went as high as a hundred and sixty mps.
The indicator had been knocked completely off the scale.
"We could have been going ten times that speed," Hank whispered in horror.
"Or a hundred times."
"Where do you think we are, Doc?" Ed asked.
"We could be anywhere in the galaxy." Doc shrugged as we crowded around the telescope, hoping it would give us some indication as to what was out there, but it must have been snapped off by the force of our entry into this planet's atmosphere, or maybe by the landing. He touched the switch that would draw back the shielding that covered the viewport and allow us to see what was out there. Meager sunlight glinted off the snow, only to be obscured by the drifting cloud cover. "We were closest to Mars; this could be one of the polar ice caps."
I turned away. "I'll break out the pressure suits and oxygen."
"Wait, Nick," Ed said. "It feels like we have plus gravity." And he would know, since he was the pilot. "If this was Mars, the density would be one tenth Terra normal. Hank, shut off the ship's artificial gravity, would you?"
Hank swallowed audibly. "It is off, Ed. I don't know how long it's been off."
Stunned silence met his announcement.
"Uh ..." I noticed something out the viewport that was just within my field of vision. "Is that a tree?"
But no one seemed to hear me.
"That rules out Mars." Ed straightened and threw back his shoulders. "I guess there's just one thing to do."
"No! Carlyle, wait!"
But he went right ahead and cracked the hatch open and stuck his idiotic head out. I sucked in a breath and held it, which wasn't too smart on my part, either, because if that air was tainted, I'd just inhaled a lungful of it.
"Oh! This is wonderful. Smell that air."
I let out the breath I was holding and gave him a shove. "You could have poisoned us all." I refrained from calling him a stupid son of a bitch, but only just.
"But I didn't." He grinned at me over his shoulder, then turned his head and took another deep breath.
After the stale, recycled oxygen of the Emmy, we became almost drunk on the cold breeze that blew into the cabin. The scents it carried were vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite think what they reminded me of.
"All right, then. Let's get some warm clothes on," Doc said. "It's cold out there. Nick, the Geiger counter? We'll need to know what the radiation count is on this planet."
"I'm on top of it, Doc." I opened the storage hatch and pulled out four cases, then found something that shocked me so much I toppled back on my ass. "Uh ... Doc, you want to explain this?"