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By the middle of the 21st century, humanity has finally landed men on Mars–only to watch helplessly as the first two missions end in catastrophe and death.
With resources running out, a third–and perhaps final–mission to Mars is hastily mounted, with a crew of four men and two women. But from the moment of their arrival on Mars, everything begins to go wrong. The fuel tanks that were to have supplied their return trip are found corroded and empty. Their supplies are running out and their life support systems are beginning to fail. And any rescue mission won't reach them for months, or even years–if at all.
The crew's only hope for survival lies in a desperate plan: an agonizing trek halfway across the surface of Mars to a ship designed to carry only half their number. Torn by conflict and dissent, and troubled by secrets that endanger them all, they must embark on an ordeal that will test them to the limits of endurance.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||4.29(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.22(d)|
About the Author
Landis live near Cleaveland, Ohio with his wife, author Mary Turzillo, where he works on advanced concepts for the NASA John Glenn Research Center.
Read an Excerpt
WELCOME TO MARS
Through the viewport there was nothing but a yellow-pink fog. Then slowly, the fog faded, and the ridged plains of Felis Dorsa emerged out of the haze, at first misty and colorless, and then, as the dust raised by the landing thinned out, sharply delineated.
John Radkowski looked across the landscape at plains of sand gently undulating beneath a pale butterscotch sky.
It was hard for him to contain his fierce joy. Mars!
He wanted simultaneously to cry, to laugh, and to shout out a loud cry of exaltation. He did none of these. As mission commander, it was his duty to keep the mission businesslike. Decades in the astronaut corps had taught him that showing his emotions, even for such an event as landing on Mars, was a move that would, down the line, give him a reputation for being emotional, and hence unreliable. He stayed silent.
At fifty, John Radkowski was the oldest member of the crew, and the one most experienced in space. He was short, wiry rather than overtly muscular, with gray hair cropped closely to his head. His eyes had the slow, restless motion of long years of training; he focused on the task at hand, but always part of his attention was glancing around the cabin, looking up, down, checking for that small forgotten out-of-place something that might spell trouble for the mission. One hand, his left, was missing three fingers. His crew knew better than to offer him help.
Mars! After all the decades of work, he had finally madeit!
There was work to do. As commander, the other five crewmembers depended on him to get the mission done safely and bring them back home. He had better get working.
The crew was occupied with their landing tasks, shutting the flight systems down and bringing the surface operation systems up, then verifying that they were running according to spec. He knew that all of them wanted to stop their work and crowd to the viewport, but for the moment they were all too busy, even Trevor, and so he had the viewport to himself.
Off to the southeast, close enough to be easily visible through the residual pink haze, was the squat form of Dulcinea.
The field glasses consisted of a flat rectangle, about the size of a paperback book. They had been designed to function equally well with or without a space-suit helmet. He raised them to his eyes. The computer adjusted the focus to match his eyesight, and the result was as if he were looking through a window at a magnified view of the landscape.
Like Chamlong said, they had hit their landing site right on the nail, with Dulcinea no more than half a mile away. That was of critical importance to them: Dulcinea was their way home, a fully fueled return vehicle that had landed on Mars six and a half years earlier. He examined her minutely, then examined the ground between the landing site of Quijote and the return vehicle. It was sand, sculpted by a million years of intermittent wind into hillocks and waves. There was an assortment of randomly scattered rocks, some boulder-sized, half-buried beneath the sand, but he saw no obstacles to their easy travel. Good.
The viewport forgotten, he turned to the copilot's console. The floor was tilted at an odd angle; the lander must have set down on a slope, and he had to move carefully to avoid falling. He studied the sequence of images taken during landing. Both visual and radar images had been taken, and he plotted them as a topographical map of the terrain. Again, he saw no obstacles. Good.
When he got up, he saw that Trevor, Estrela, and Chamlong were all crowded around the viewport, pushing each other out of the way to jockey for a view of Mars. He smiled. They must have been watching for the very instant he had vacated the position.
"Why look out the window when we can go out and see for ourselves?" he said. "Get your suits ready, gang, it's time to go outside and play. Get a move on; in six weeks we'll have to go home, and we've got a full schedule before we go."
With the lander resting at a pronounced tilt, the ladder splayed out at a cockeyed angle. Climbing down was not really difficult, but it was a challenge to descend gracefully. To hell with it, Radkowski thought, and jumped, landing off balance in a puff of dust.
As mission commander, it was his task to say some immortal words for the watching cameras. He had his lines memorized, extemporaneous words to be remembered forever, written for him by a team of public relations experts: I take this step for all humankind. In the name of all the peoples of Earth, we return to Mars in the spirit of scientific endeavor, with the eternal courage of human adventure and bringing with us the voice of peace among all men.
Stumbling up onto his feet to stand on the red sands of Mars, with Ryan Martin shooting him on high-definition television out the window of the lander, John Radkowski uttered the immortal words of the third expedition to Mars. He said, "Holy shit, I just can't believe I'm really here."
The sand had a hard, crunchy surface, and crackled underfoot as if he were walking on a thin crust of frost. Beneath the crust, the surface under his feet had the consistency of packed flour. Tiny puffs of rusty dust billowed away from his feet every time he raised a foot, and within a minute, his boots and the bottom half of his suit had been lightly spraypainted in ochre. He felt light. They had maintained half of Earth's gravity by the tether during the seven-month journey on the Quijote; the Mars gravity was noticeably lighter, and despite the eighteen months of training in Mars-simulation tanks on Earth, he felt as if he were buoyed up by invisible floats.
As he'd figured, Don Quijote had landed on the slope of one of the small ridges, and sat at a precarious tilt. Fortunately the ship had never been intended to take off from Mars, and in a day they would move their living quarters out of the cramped Quijote and into the inflatable habitat that had been landed on Mars with Dulcinea.
Behind him, his Brazilian colleague Estrela Conselheiro hopped down the ladder. She bounced on the ground, bounded into the air, and stretched her arms overhead as if worshiping the sun. "Oh, it is magnificent, is it not? Magnificent!"
Much better words than his own, Radkowski reluctantly admitted to himself.
Behind Estrela, Tana Jackson came down. "Yikes!" she said. "That's one bodacious step." She looked around, and caught her breath. "My god, it's magnificent," she said.
Finally Chamlong Limpigomolchai jumped down, negotiating the jump without any comment. Once on the surface, he pivoted slowly around to look in all directions in silence. The other two crew members, Ryan Martin and Trevor Whitman, stayed behind in the lander; they would only leave Quijote and come down to the surface when Estrela, Tana, and Chamlong rotated back to the ship.
It was everything he had wanted, what he had struggled and worked and lived for. The rust-encrusted, ridged terrain, the distant buttes barely visible through the cinnamon haze on the horizon, and Dulcinea, their ticket back to Earth, sitting ready for them, no more than a fifteen-minute walk awayhe had seen it a hundred times in his dreams.
So why was he suddenly depressed?
John Radkowski had no tools for analyzing his mood. Self-inspection had never been encouraged in the astronaut corps; the main purpose of the many counselors and psychologists, according to the gossip, was to weed out the weak sisters from the active duty roster. Focus on the task, get the job done, don't complain; that had been the motto of the people that Radkowski had worked and trained with for years. Now, suddenly, his entire future seemed to be an anticlimax; even the remainder of the six-week stay on Mars and the flight back to Earth, featuring a swingby and gravity boost from the planet Venus, seemed to him like nothing but tedium. He had been focused on reaching Mars for so long, he had never set personal goals for beyond the moment. His life, as he knew it, was over, and he had not even the faintest inkling of what would lie beyond.
A man's reach should exceed his grasp, he thought. I've grasped my dreams. What do I do now?