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By trisha herlihy All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Scifi

Chapter One

The Gybe, a galactic class freighter and recycling space ship or crater, nicknamed for the crates of salvaged space junk they haul between Earth, the Moon and Mars, travels through space on its maiden voyage to Earth.

On board The Gybe, day fourteen of the mission.

‘Will you LET ME IN, I’m freezing my ass off out here!..’ Harvey presses his head to the small porthole camera and on the screen in the central communications hub his face looms large, distorted through the space helmet’s thick curve of gold particle shielding.

‘Are you gonna stop drinking?’ Noona presses the intercom back on… ‘because unless you promise to get back on that wagon, this ship is off limits to you.’

‘Let… ME… IN!’ each word is punctuated by Harvey head-butting the camera lens.

‘Fine, see you back at space port.’ Noona flicks the switch off on the intercom and sighs. Sometimes Harvey stretched her patience to the very limit.

‘Urghh..’ Harvey stops banging his head against the docking bay door, it was starting to make him feel nauseous. He turns his head to one side, leaning up against the smooth hull of the ship and he can see letters, painted along the hull running away from him before the curved metal disappears into the deep embrace of nothing. G..Y..B..E.. He spells it out in his mind. The Gybe. The newest of the Craters. A flagship for the Company. His baby. The magnets on his suit pull him tight to the side of the ship, Noona may well not be prepared to open the door but she wasn’t going to let him drift off into space either. It occurs to him that Noona must have overridden the Meld-all to give access to the bare hull and, for a moment, his mind is full of the problems and stresses this could cause the Plasma2impulse generator system. Harvey sighs, his gullet feels like sandpaper and his eyes throb. Whatever Dougal brewed his moonshine from, it left a dog-rough taste in your mouth the next day. Was it the next day? To be honest and brutal honesty was something Harvey was all too familiar with, he could have been drinking for several days. Still, looking on the bright side, it had been one hundred and fifty-seven days since last time.

Noona looks up as Irvin arrives for his shift. She stretches and points to the intercom. ‘Only let him in when he promises to stop drinking.’

‘OKEY DOKEY, Captn!’ Irv slides into the seat Noona vacates and flicks the intercom back in. ‘Rise and moonshine today ladies and gentleman. This your in-flight DJ talking, lie back and enjoy the ride!’

Harvey groans as he recognises Irv’s voice, must be shift change.

‘Now, let’s see, Harvey, I’m sure I can find a song just for you here…’ Harvey winces as his intercom is switched to the ship’s music catalogue. ‘Ooh, The Screaming Hangover’s 24 hour party mix! Enjoy!’ Irv settles back in his chair as the communications hub fills with the sound of loud, loud music. He was confident that Harvey would be promising not to drink again in no time at all.

Addie reaches the resources suite and finds Dougal busy with the algae filters. The food on board the Gybe was part pre-packed, freeze dried proteins and carbs and part grown in the farm beds in the resources suite. Rows of water tanks, each with complex algae filters kept the recycled water system clean and provided nutrients for the larger photosynthesising plants on board, mainly micro-salads, seaweeds and soft fruits.


‘Hmmn?’ Dougal does not look up, recognising the ship’s doctor’s footsteps long before she reaches him.

‘Where’s the freezer?’


‘Noona said she was putting Harvey in the freezer to sober up. I didn’t realise we had a cold-room on board. I want to check he’s not got too dehydrated...’

Addie stops mid-sentence as Dougal bursts out laughing.

‘What’s so funny.’

He taps the bulkhead wall. ‘The freezer is Crater slang for outside, space, the chiller, the freezer, the big cold… Noona’s keelhauling his sorry drunken butt.’

‘She’s what! You mean he’s outside the ship, in the state he was in!’


Addie can scarcely believe what she is hearing. Keelhauling! She’d heard of the practice at the Company Academy but presumed, since it was outlawed, no one used the technique any more, let alone applied it to someone who’d been drinking moonshine for twenty-four hours.

‘But it’s illegal!’

‘Yes, well, I wouldn’t tell Noona…’ But Dougal’s words are addressing the empty space where Addie had been. ‘..that. hmm, I think the proverbial is about to hit the fan!’ he sighs and pulls the lid shut on the filter he was working on. The new doctor was brilliant but a little too eager to do everything by the book. A few years working the Craters would knock off those sharp Academy edges. Dougal heads for the decks hoping to intercept Addie before she manages to pick a fight with Noona.

Noona lies back in her bunk and stares up at the two holographic clips on the cabin ceiling above. She doesn’t click on them, preferring the still images to the 3D movie clip. One shows her husband Chris and their son, Chip smiling as they play spacetrax together. The other is of her and Chip, taken when a Chip was still a baby, his large tawny eyes smiling out from his cheeky face as she cradles him in her arms. Today, Chip and Chris felt a long way away and the last thing she needed on this trip was Harvey drunk and incapable. The crew was too small to be a man down and, as Chief Engineer, the ship needed him. Sure, integrated robotic nano-circuitry could run the ship without any crew but the payload, the salvage mission, well, that required an engineer. How dare Harvey think he could get away with going on a drinking spree while on company time. In frustration, she punches the padded wall next to her bunk, feeling the wadding give under her fist. The indentation remains for a moment and then the memory foam springs back into perfect shape with a soft thunk sound. This is followed by the electronic bleep of the cabin doorbell. The door light winks on and off impatiently and Noona sighs, gets up and presses the door release. Never a moment alone.

Addie barges past Noona into her cabin and immediately launches into a tirade over Harvey. ‘How dare you put Harvey outside! He should be in the infirmary, probably on a rehydration drip not out in space, he could be unconscious for all you know…not to mention it’s completely illegal to keelhaul anyone! Studies have shown the psychological damage by prolonged exposure to…’

‘How dare I ? How DARE I? I’ll tell you how. As Captain of this ship it is my duty to protect the crew from all dangers, including that drunken idiot, by whatever means necessary…’

‘Article 24711 of the company code clearly states that intoxication…’

‘DON’T YOU DARE QUOTE Company regs at me you jumped up little Academy bitch! When you have flown as many missions as I have, when you have your own ship, when you have any understanding of the risks involved then you come and tell me what to do with MY crew… MY CREW…’

Dougal arrives just as Noona takes a step towards Addie, anger etched into every line on her face. Involuntarily, sensing the sudden danger, Addie steps back against the bunk and sits down suddenly.

‘What do you want Dougal?’ Noona asks, without dropping her stare from Addie.

‘Well, just wanted to make sure you two weren’t about to do something you’ll both regret later.’ Dougal squeezes into the cabin as well, making it impossible for anyone to move, let alone fight. Noona looks away from Addie and snorts, gently chiding him to move back out. ‘Go on, get out, there’s no room. Addie and I were just agreeing to disagree about Harvey’s punishment, that’s all.’

Addie can feel the tension drain out of the confrontation. Noona hits the intercom button by the door and the cabin is suddenly flooded with loud music.

‘What the hell are you doing Irv?’ she asks.

‘Just a little therapeutic mood music Captain. The good news is that Harvey’s begging to come back in and has promised to never touch another drop of alcohol again.’

‘Turn that noise off and get Harvey back in! Make sure he reports immediately to the doctor at the infirmary.’

‘Yes Capt. And technically it’s not a noise, It’s The Mightful Wrath of Noise, very good band. Saw them once…’

‘Just do it, Irv.’ Noona turns off the intercom and looks at Addie and Dougal. ‘Well, go on, Harvey will be at the infirmary before you both are…oh, and Dougal, if I catch you brewing anything other than beer again, it’ll be you out there, not Harvey.’

Noona watches them leave and then shuts the cabin door. Sleep seems a million miles away now so sits down at her desk to work instead.

Addie hands Harvey a mild painkiller and a hydration drink. Apart from a headache, he seems no worse for wear from his space walk. Harvey sighs and downs the pill followed by the drink, shuddering involuntarily as the sweet-salt liquid hits his taste-buds. ‘This stuff never gets any better!’ He watches Addie as she updates his records on her computer.

‘Don’t be too hard on Noona, she knew what she was doing… No harm done, eh?’

Addie glances up and sees the genuine concern in Harvey’s eyes. ‘No, no harm done this time Harvey. But, as your Doctor, I advise you to stay well clear of moonshine for the rest of the mission.’

‘So, this won’t go any further then?’

‘…No, this won’t go any further.’

‘But the Company will pick up your report about treating my hangover?’

‘The doctor smiles at his anxiety. ‘I have to account for every item used, Harvey, including headache tablets. I have simply noted that you reported for your shift with a headache that required medication. OK?’

Harvey grins at her, ‘Yep, that’s OK. You can call me Harv, you know, everyone does. So, can I get back to work?’

‘Yes, go on, get out of here!’ Addie watches as Harvey leaves, his large frame squeezing through the small airlock door. Life on board the Gybe is very different to how she imagined it would be. Already she feels as though she is being inexorably drawn into the close-knit world of the crew. Losing sight of her impartiality and they were barely two weeks into the mission.

‘Sometimes people just need to let off steam.’ Addie jumps at the sound of Dougal’s voice. She had forgotten he was in the infirmary too. ‘I know it goes against the grain not to report this to the company but this is such a small incident in the great scheme of all that could go wrong on this mission. I guess Crater life isn’t quite what you thought it would be like at the Academy?’

Addie smiles and shakes her head ruefully, sometimes it felt as though Dougal could read minds.

‘Don’t worry, Addie,’ he continues, ‘Out here there is no right and wrong, there is only the ship and the mission between us and the freezer. Most of us tore up the rule book long, long ago and what the Company doesn’t know won’t hurt them as long as the mission is completed and the ship returns. I am sure, when it comes to it, in the big issues, you’ll make the right decisions. Now, I have to go and finish those sunspot calculations for Noona. Nice canary, by the way, I didn’t know we were having live cargo on board.’

The GEM bird! Addie starts guiltily as Dougal gestures to the birdcage, containing a small yellow bird, visible through the isolation laboratory window. In her outrage over Harvey she had left it uncovered. ‘Oh, it’s just an experiment for a research paper I’m working on for the Company…’

Dougal smiles and leaves the infirmary chuckling to himself as he catches the momentary look of alarm on the Doctor’s face. Experiment indeed. He knew an illegal Genetically Engineered and Modified creature when he saw one. Looks like the new doctor was well on her way to tearing up her own rule book already.

After Dougal leaves, Addie sighs and enters the isolab to replace the cover on the GEM-bird. It watches her silently through its blue eyes as she pulls the cloth over the cage. She had forgotten about the bloody bird! Dougal was right, it would have been highly unusual to have been given permission for a bird on board. The GEM-bird was here because she had smuggled it on, superstition winning over her common-sense.

Noona scans the information on the holoscreen in front of her, her mind trying to block out the fracas with Addie. Maybe reviewing their mission would help. She had accessed the file on the ISELP. Among the detailed plans and precise salvage schedules was a small infoblurb, presumably designed as a piece of marketing by Company for the general public. Over a catchy synthpop tune old footage of the ISELP, orbiting above Earth's atmosphere, was montaged with salient points about the station.

'ISELP – International Space Exploration Launch Platform.

First commissioned in 2177.

Launches to colonise Mars. From 2180 to 2189.

Decommissioned as Space Launch Platform vehicle in 2196.

Rented to private sector as space storage facilities until 2201.

Structural integrity obsolescence led to withdrawal of all operating licences in 2203.

During Earth Abandonment (2203 to 2215) ISELP was left intact as cost of decommissioning was too prohibitive.'

The film footage zooms in to show the various modules and building jetties, detailed graphic cutaways overlaying the photo stills. At the end of the virtual tour, a voice over announced the Company's plan to refit the one hundred and twenty year old ISELP and sail her back to Mars to become the first stage of the new DSELP (Deep Space Exploration Launch Platform), the first step to manned exploration beyond the solar system. A virtual image of the Gybe pops up on screen, towing the ISELP, in one piece, back to Mars as the music reaches a crescendo. The screen fills with a final message. 'the Company, providing a resourceful future for you!'

The whole mission felt like a PR stunt to Noona. The ISELP was a floating scrapheap and rumours abounded among the Crater community that it was either or used as a radioactive waste or biohazard dump after decommissioning. The whole scheme was mad anyway. To drag a great rotting hulk like that all the way to Mars just to scrap it and melt it down at the spaceports? At their mission briefing there had been lots of talk of it being a prestige salvage, only the Company's finest were chosen for it. That the ISELP was the tangible proof the public needed that the next step for humankind was deep space, moving beyond Mars and colonising new worlds.

Noona sighs and stretches, something just didn't add up with the mission. Even if it was a piece of public relations they didn't have to offer triple money and allow Noona to choose her crew. Well, most of her crew, the Doctor was the Company's choice and maybe that was what rankled with her, Noona had little time for the Company's hot-housed career climbers. It would be much more efficient to scrap the ISELP where it was in orbit and haul the junk back in crates but instead they had to waste time refitting it for space flight, setting up a Meld-all shield and then haul the leviathan ISELP to Mars in one piece. That was why she had asked Dougal to run through those sunspot calculations, it was imperative their schedule didn't leave them open to any solar storms as most of the refit would be unshielded. Noona yawns and turns off the holoscreen, deciding to give sleep one more try.

On Mars, two weeks before The Gybe's mission.

In the centre, the compartments rise from the floor of the biohedron (UV-shielded sealed glass biodome) to almost three hundred feet in height, tailing off to little more than thirty feet at the boundaries. The buildings, too densely built to allow for much in the way of privacy, are windowless and bland. Threading through and between the blocks of compartments are the walkways, arterial links for the whole biohedron community, some merging into grand thoroughfares, others branching off into thin single pathways. All eventually converging at some point onto the ringway, a huge promenade encircling the biohedron and connecting it to its neighbours. Here and there, like giant green mushrooms, are the gardens. Each a glass oasis in a sterile, freezing and dry Mars environment, and through the panes can be seen movement and colour as the plantings move to an artificial breeze, or tropical storm, or sea squall and the reservoirs glint and rail at the weather.

The life inside the compartments and walkways is very different to the external view. The main thoroughfares are always busy with the passage of thousands of feet, as the daily traffic ebbs to and fro between the biohedrons. People walking to work, to school, to visit family and friends, to exercise, to play. The fast-track always slowing up at peak hours as the runners and joggers compete for space on floors tensioned to allow a small amount of cushioning, avoiding long-term fatigue and stress to the body and to help with noise pollution. Weaving in and out through the system, are the cyclotubes, separate crazy coloured tube-ways for the cyclists, rollerboarders (articulated skateboards) and speed-wheelers (inline skates, often with wheeled hand mittens as well). The air conditioning system re-circulating through the gardens, allows for natural fluctuations in temperature and humidity, giving a tidal effect to the climate in conjunction with the traffic of people, occasionally having to kick in the scrubber columns at peak volume.

The compartment blocks all follow the same uniform construction from blocks of Martian rock, crushed and heated, then air-expanded into lightweight building slabs. With a temperate climate in the biohedrons, the buildings are lightweight and stable. Each building varies in its interior as to how many compartments and of what size. The magnolifts and stairwells climbing up through the centre of each compartment block efficiently manage the flow of inhabitants to the central plazas at the base of the blocks. Shopping pick-up points, childcare and medical centres, entertainment malls and community meeting points make these plazas busy spaces.

The biohedrons themselves are grouped together, in sixes, to form large doughnut shaped cities. Enclosed, self-sufficient, safe environments from the harsh Martian climate and landscape. Most people live their lives within these cities, never needing to travel outside, into the world of the life-suit and breathing pack, into the very real world of Mars. There are three completed cities on Mars, with the construction of another two under way. New Utopia (NU), New Eden (NE), High Shangri-La (HLa) soon to be joined by Megalopis (ML) and Cinque-City (5C). The other major constructions on Mars are the launch and landing sites and the major mining and reclamation sites. The rest of the planet, bare and uncompromising, remains untouched and largely ignored. Providing a surface only on which to build, not rely. If Earth taught any lessons at all, it was never to be wholly dependent on a planet again. Above Mars, orbiting indefinitely are the spaceport and the communication satellites, and the headquarters for the Company, housed in the Spacetel.

To reach the headquarters for the Company in the Spacetel, you are ushered through an airlock into the plush outer foyer, complete with polished marble flooring and mirrored walls to add the illusion of space. There is the sound of water falling from imagined falls and tropical birds call from the holowall positioned behind the receptionist’s greeting desk and the receptionist itself, talks with all the modulator resonance of the most expensive voice synth technology. It will take you a second or two to place the slight drawl to the vowels… then it occurs to you, HLa. the voice is east HLa. Upper east HLa. The voice is class.

Once your retinal scan is complete, you are guided through the metal detector doors to the inner foyer, to wait on seats made from real antique leather and metal, with the latest cyberart performances on a private holo-network and a drinks dispenser with twenty-four varieties of water. And the wait will be just long enough for you to drink in all this custom-built opulence, to speculate at the expense and grandeur, the importance of the Company, when your personal guide arrives to take you to your meeting. And you will never know, even though you enter through another airlock, this time a bio-defence lock, into the discreet, softly-furnished heart of the Company, just how far you are from the real hub of authority. It will probably not even dawn on you that the people who are really running the show, the Board members, are not on the Spacetel at all.

The Company is working to make life better for everyone. The basic premise for survival on Mars is this, to be self-sufficient. Everyone knows that, understands that, learns that lesson about Earth at primary school. ‘Self-sufficiency means survival. To be entirely self-sufficient, we must utilise and re-utilise every scrap of the available resources we have. Everything we use, starting with the first breath of air we draw and finishing with the body we leave behind after death. Reclaim, re-use, re-invent, re-invest for a better future when you recycle the present and past.’ Many traditional technologies had to be changed or scrapped. Just look at what happened to Earth, nobody ever wanted to see a repeat of Earth Abandonment happen on Mars. On Mars the real power lay in the resources loop, if you controlled the resources loop, you controlled Mars.

The year is 2297, eighty-two years after Earth Abandonment to Mars, the Company is sending back a salvage team to retrieve the ISELP (International Space Exploration Launch Platform). The mission for the five company crew members on board the new Crater ship ‘Gybe’ is straightforward, return to Earth, refit the one hundred and twenty year old ISELP and sail her back to Mars as it is to form the first stage of the new DSELP (Deep Space Exploration Launch Platform), the first step to manned exploration beyond the solar system.

In his office at home, Perin Sybaris, Company board member, logs into the Company mainframe.

Login company//access level34//

Login files//internal memos2297//

Re: ISELP mission crew expendability scenario

Assess the probability of ISELP auto-retrieval in the event of a catastrophic accident on board the Gybe during salvage operations //

The cursor pauses and blinks, waiting for the next keypad input. The Company had been running the disaster scenarios for the ISELP mission for months now and all Perin need do is press send and his request would run through their mission scenario software for the outcome he is after. Because his access clearance is so high, none of the techies would question why he needed this information, if anyone even noticed the request in the first place. The internal memo system generated huge quantities of traffic every day. Perin presses send and the screen blips and flashes as the message disappears. He leans back in his chair and surveys his office while he waits for his answer.

His office occupies one corner of the low mansion building complex situated in biohedron Five NU, one of the first cities to be completed on Mars. The Company had kept one biohedron for it’s personal use and instead of the normal high rise compartment blocks, the biohedron houses landscaped parks and lakes and golf clubs dotted with low-rise mansions and apartment complexes for high-level Company personnel. Off limits to everyone except those with level 28 security access, most Mars inhabitants had no idea of the level of luxury the Company afforded their employees, a far cry from the cramped compartment blocks in the rest of New Utopia. In fact, most of the Company high level personnel rarely left this little paradise, preferring to work from office suites built into their homes than travel to the spaceport and up to the spacetel headquarters.

Perin’s office contains a large marble-topped desk occupying the centre of the room with commanding views out through French windows on two sides to the lake and golf course beyond. On one wall is a large holoscreen link-up to the head office, on the wall behind the desk is a painting of a chestnut racehorse in a heavily cracked gilt frame. Covering the polished wooden floor is a richly patterned carpet. Perin can feel the pile give under the soft soles of his shoes. On the screen in front of him the cursors blinks patiently. His mind wanders from the task in hand to Emerald, probably still sleeping. He dwells for a moment on the thought of her soft skin but is snapped back to the present as the screen bleeps and displays the reply to his request.

Login company//access level34//

Login files//internal memos2297//

Re: ISELP mission crew expendability scenario reply

In the event of a catastrophic accident on board the Gybe, leading to the disablement or death of the entire crew, an assessment of the probability of the ISELP being able to make the return journey unmanned relies on several factors:

State of completion of the salvage refit.

Damage to the ISELP superstructure.

Damage to the ISELP navcom and maincom functions.

See attached specific scenario outcomes. Most favourable outcomes rely on salvage refit being at least 51% complete, 90% chance of auto-retrieval after this stage.

Please note inclusion of partial crew survival scenario, this increases return chances to over 97%.

Scenario One: Catastrophic event, no survivors

Scenario Two: Catastrophic event, partial survival

Perin downloads the two scenarios and cuts the connection to the mainframe.

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