Tuesday, 31 May 2016


The remote ships were designed primarily to carry much larger payloads of cargo than the Albatross. They were flown via remote control from Earth and therefore designed to be unmanned. Consequently, unlike the Albatross, the cargo bays filled a much larger proportion of the remotes’ hulls. They were, however, also designed as ERVs (Earth Return Vehicles) in case, for some reason, the Albatross was incapable to make the return journey to Earth. Thus, they were fitted with flight decks and crew habitation quarters, albeit much smaller than those on the Albatross. However, with two pilots in our crew it meant that two ERVs could have been piloted back to Earth with three crew members on board each if necessary, making the return journey to Earth less cramped and uncomfortable for the crew.
All of this meant that I should have had no trouble firing up the ERVs and piloting them to their new parking area. And yet I did. When I got to the first ERV, the damn thing wouldn’t fire up. It would burp, and it would fart, but it would not start. Eventually, I opened the hatch and marched down to the tail of the ship and looked up the tailpipes of the thrusters; wondering if perhaps they were blocked by Martian dust. There was some in there, but not enough to make any difference. I looked up at the sky in the direction of Earth and yelled,
“Drew, get your ass down here! I can’t start this bastard!”
I angrily marched back into the ship and punched the button to slam the hatch closed (which, of course, it didn’t—it just slid slowly closed as it always did). This infuriated me even more, so I threw myself into the launch chair and glared at the control panel for a long time. That didn’t magically make the engines start either, so I reached forward and hit the oxygen feeds to the engines to blow the dust out of them and shut them down after a few seconds.
The ERVs had been parked on Mars for at least eight months, which meant that the last time the engines had been fired up was at least that long ago, and during that time they had been exposed to all the sudden and erratic temperature changes and storms that Mars could throw at them. I suddenly sat bolt upright in the launch chair as I suddenly remembered a trick Drew had used a few times when he couldn’t get one of the thrusters to fire up.
Now how did he do it? Pushed the throttles to 25 percent and then hit the ignition buttons and hold for a few seconds…then push the throttles to the gate, hit the ignition buttons, and hold. With a burp and a fart, the engines finally did start. I did not cut back on the thruster throttles fast enough and was hurled back into the launch chair and pinned there as the ship scated and bounced while rapidly accelerating across the ground. I tried pulling back on the joystick but got no real joy from it; I got the nose off the ground but the ship was still being bounced around by the rear landing skids as they skidded  across the rough terrain of the plateau. I increased the landing thrusters to maximum, but before they had time to make a difference, the ship skidded off the end of the plateau and plummeted toward the floor of the crater far below.
I noticed as I fell toward my death that the thrusters were still at 100 percent power. I pushed forward on the stick, thereby lowering the nose of the remote. The ship was carrying a total weight of well over ninety tons including its own weight—a very heavy inertia to overcome and control—but the thrusters were very powerful and were already pushing the ship forward rapidly. She started to rise from the canyon when I again pulled back on the stick and luckily I flew upward and away from my death.
Once I reached the altitude I had planned for in the first place, I leveled off and cut the throttles back to 5 percent power while cutting the landing thrusters back to 50 percent. I then floated across the Martian landscape toward the plain. When I reached it I set up for a landing and dumped the ship heavily onto the ground. I didn’t care—I was still angry and shaken and had had enough for one day. After shutting down all flight systems, I went through to the cargo hold, unstrapped the buggy, disconnected the cables and hoses, and drove toward the city. I stopped the buggy before I entered the ramp leading to the city and looked up at the sky toward where I knew the Earth would be.
“Thanks Drew,” I said, “I owe you a brew, or at least a shot of rum or two.”
Of course, I knew there was no way Drew could have possibly heard my offer, yet I was certain that, one way or another, he would hold me to it when he got back.
The next day was quite a bit easier for me. I was able to use what I had learned the day before to start up the second ERV with relative ease and so, without any of the drama of the previous day, was able to fly it to the plain and land it before midday. I decided that instead of driving back and flying the last ERV over to the plain, I would spend the rest of the day unloading some of the supplies from the two ERVs and stow them in a corner in the city where they could be sorted later when the rest of the crew returned.
For the next week, I unloaded supplies from the two ERVs until I decided to go get the last ERV and bring it in to join the rest on the plain. Once I completed that mission and the three ERVs were parked on the plain I spent my days unloading ERVs and helping Sammy in the terrarium and the labs.

Over the weeks that followed I often caught myself looking up into the Martian skies toward the area I knew was where the starship would be making its reentry into Mars Atmos(phere). I always found myself disappointed when the skies remained empty.