Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer and J. S. Kachelries

“Command and Control says that we will not be permitted to land,” stated Taylor O’Leary, the pilot of the return module.

Despite knowing that O’Leary wasn’t responsible for the decision, Jonathan Hartwell argued, “They can’t do that. The alien spores are dead. They can only live on Mercury.”

“Look Jon, maybe you’re right, but it’s not going to change their minds. After what those spores did to our base, they can’t risk letting us contaminate the Earth. There are over eight billion people down there, versus just two of us. Face it, we’re expendable.”

“The spores didn’t kill us. They don’t kill people.”

“It’s the universal acid they secrete. It destroys everything.”

“They haven’t damaged the module. It’s taken us three months to get back to Earth. Those damn things are everywhere. There are probably billions of then in our clothes. They’re harmless. If they were still dangerous, we’d be dead.”

“Jon, you’re a scientist. Use your head. Maybe they’re just dormant. If it turns out that they can live on Earth…” O’Leary was interrupted by an emergency alarm. He drifted over to the master panel and punched up the codes. “Damn. The reactor is overheating. Maybe those bastards are still alive. We need to move the ship away from Earth before she blows.” As the primary thrusters fired, the reactor’s coolant line ruptured and the ship began to spin out of control. Despite their best efforts, the ship tumbled toward the Earth. Moments later, it exploded.

Most of the debris burned up during reentry, but much of it, including trillions of spores, slowly drifted through the upper atmosphere and eventually into the troposphere. NASA was able to collect a few hundred of the microscopic spores using a Lockheed ER-5 high-altitude research aircraft. Testing at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta concluded that the spores had the ability to reproduce, but they were not active. After months of experiments, the scientists could not get the spores to feed, reproduce, or secrete acid. Apparently, Earth had dodged a bullet. However, the United Nations passed numerous resolutions prohibiting exploration of any extraterrestrial body until adequate safeguards were established. Eventually, the fervor died down, and most people forgot about the incident and went on with their lives.

But the spores continued to drift around the globe hoping to settle in environments that were suitable for them. No one at the CDC thought that the key factor keeping the spores dormant was the low flux density of neutrinos on Earth. On Mercury, because of its proximity to the sun, they were bathed to ten times the number of neutrinos, and they could grow and multiply. On Earth, however, there were only a few sources where the flux density of neutrinos was high enough to revive them. And, eventually, the spores found them all, one by one. They thrived in their new environments, and their populations grew exponentially. Of course, they also began secreting their corrosive fluids. At first, it was assumed that terrorists somehow managed to destroy the Aircraft Carrier CVN 76 Ronald Reagan. No one thought it was the spores, even as nuclear power plants around the world began exploding one after another.

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Escape from Io

Author : Adam Zabell and Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Fifteen days after we landed on Io, Jupiter’s innermost Galilean moon, a faulty weld on the ascent module’s fuel tank ruptured, venting all of our liquid hydrogen into space. Janice O’Connor was able to repair the tank, but if we couldn’t replenish the hydrogen, we’d never be able to reach the Return Module orbiting Callisto.

Command and Control tried to help, but the 90 minute round trip conference calls to Earth were quite literally killing us. Janice died while removing a flow regulator that C&C told us to replace “ASAP”. Thirty minutes later, a message arrived warning us of a potential explosion. That’s when I decided to take Earth out of the loop. After all, I had a ship full of scientists; surely they could come up with a solution on their own. I asked Kristoff Heise to head the Hydrogen Replenishment Team. Kristoff is the brightest we have up here. Marooned on a deserted island, he’s the guy who could build a hovercraft from a dead car battery, some palm leaves, and six coconuts. Of course, he’s also the guy that would die of starvation because it wouldn’t occur to him to eat the coconuts. Short leash, specific goals; that’s what it takes to keep him focused.

Reading the summary from his preliminary report made my eyes crossed. If I understood correctly, and that’s debatable, Kristoff devised a way to turn Io into an electric generator. “…The orbit of Io lies well within the intense Jovian radiation belt. This bathes the moon in highly energized electrons, protons, and heavier ions. A coarse calculation (see Equation 9, Section 3.2.14) indicates an electric potential of 175.9 volts per radial mile. Therefore, if we construct a modified magnetic reconnection antenna (see Figures 12 thru 17) there are hundreds of amperes of electric current available (Equation 11, ibid). By establishing a…” Ahh, whatever. When I brought him into my office he simplified it. “If we tap into the electric potential of Io, we can power an enormous electrolysis cell, separate gaseous hydrogen from the disassociation of melted Ionian ice, compress the hydrogen into a liquid, and refill the tank.” Why didn’t he just say that in the first place!

After hours of listening to his scientific babbling, I snapped. “Kristoff,” I yelled, “just appropriate whatever you needed to do the job, and stop bothering me.” In hindsight, I probably should have worded it better. The next thing I knew, he had the entire science team postulating, designing, planning, and whatever else those brainiacs do. They removed the heating coils from the life support system, the tanks from the water recycling system, and the compressor from the carbon dioxide scrubbers. I tried to explain the biological ramifications of dismantling equipment that kept us warm and allowed us to pee and breathe, but they were in the middle of an egghead feeding frenzy over heat transfer coefficients. “Besides,” they constantly reassured me, “we’ll put everything back together once the fuel tank gets filled.” Yea… that makes me feel soooo much better.

Two days later, our cargo hold looked like a farcical blend of MC Escher and Rube Goldberg. However, I have to give those nerds credit – the hydrogen tank is 50% full and climbing. On the other hand, I’m wearing a parka, sitting with my legs crossed, and trying to learn how to breathe carbon dioxide. Lately, my oxygen deprived brain has been reflecting back on my life, trying to figure out which cosmic deity I piss off enough to make me the captain of this ship of savants.

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Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer and J. S. Kachelries

Back in 2023, researchers at the Beijing Chemical Company (BCC) discovered a way to reverse the effects of global warming. It involved using a unique new molecule that converts carbon dioxide into atomic carbon and gaseous oxygen. The molecule is called phosphorousdimethylbenzaldpotassiumdicholoroethane, which was ultimately shortened to Carbon Deoxidizer. Carbon Deoxidizer is a catalyst that provides a specific surface geometry that facilitates the splitting of carbon dioxide molecules using ultraviolet light from the sun that has a characteristic wavelength of exactly 24.3 nanometers. This type of ultraviolet light is called “Extreme UV” and is only available in the mesosphere, which begins about 50 kilometers (160,000 ft) above sea level. Below this altitude, the ozone in the stratosphere blocks most of the UV photons, stopping the reaction.

Properly dispersed in the mesosphere, 1,000 pounds of Carbon Deoxidizer is enough to remove approximately two billion tons of carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere before the Carbon Deoxidizer molecules are themselves destroyed by cosmic ray spallation. Consequently, a replenishing program was initiated to maintain an equilibrium amount of Carbon Deoxidizer in the mesosphere. Since the inception of the Deoxidization Program in 2028, thirty years ago, the average global temperature declined to pre-World War II levels. Now, however, there was a doomsayer beating his drum. Professor Herbert Brewstier was intent on halting the release of any additional Carbon Deoxidizer.

Professor Brewstier had been statistically monitoring the world’s annual rainfall and had concluded that it hadn’t changed in thirty years. Scientist had originally predicted that the millions of tons of newly formed carbon dust particles would be ideal nucleation sites for raindrops. Brewstier believed that since rainfall hadn’t increased, it meant that the carbon dust was not filtering down to the troposphere, but was accumulating in the mesosphere. Furthermore, his model predicted that the carbon dust was about to reach critical density, and would explode in the very near future, releasing 50 quadrillion kilogram-calories of energy, while simultaneously reforming 80 years of carbon dioxide gas.

During the United Nations hearings, Brewstier testified that if we didn’t do something immediately, we would die one of two ways. Instantaneously, if the carbon dust combusted simultaneously; or slowly, if it took weeks for the rarified oxygen in the mesosphere to be replenished. An explosion, or a smoldering fire; either way we would be dead. However, rebuttal testimony from “atmospheric experts” hired by BCC presented enough contradictory data to prevent the UN from acting. Instead, they voted to fund a five year program to study the potential effects to the environment, and to the global economy, if the Deoxidation Program was curtailed. Frustrated, Brewstier gave up and returned to his cabin in Montana to await the end.

Each night, Brewstier would sit on his deck and watch the sky for the first signs of the ignition. Finally, one December evening, he noticed a feint glow coming from the southern horizon. It became as bright as an aurora, but was in the wrong half of the sky. He sighed as he watched the reddish light gradually expanded northward, drowning out the fifth and sixth magnitude stars. The snow covered mountaintops turned a pale blood red as they reflected the light from the slow burning mesosphere. “Damn,” he whispered as he realized that it was not going to be a quick catastrophic end. Instead, it was going to be the slow, agonizing death. But not for me, he thought, as he cocked the 12 gauge shotgun that he’d been holding in his lap.

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The UESS Hermes

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer, and Steven Odhner

The crew took their positions in Earth’s first faster than light spaceship, The UESS Hermes, named for the Greek god of flight. Its maiden voyage was planned to be a short three light-minute jump from the Naval Construction Station orbiting the Earth to the Space-Dock on Phobos, Mars’ largest moon.

Systems check completed, the Hermes left the Station and aligned itself with Mars. With a mixture of apprehension and excitement, the captain gave the command to activate the Alcubierre Drive and the computer announced that a warp bubble had been formed, and was dragging the ship toward Mars at just over the speed of light. However, after three minutes, rather than return to normal space, the ship began to accelerate toward the outer solar system. “Bridge to engine room, the warp drive didn’t disengage. Can you shut it down manually?”

Chief Engineer Travis “Slim” Wheeler, who had helped design and install the propulsion system replied, “The drive itself is off, Captain. The warp bubble is somehow sustaining itself!”

“Chief, we’re entering the asteroid belt and accelerating. If you can’t collapse the bubble, can you at least turn us around?”

“Negative, sir. Once the warp bubble is created, the ship will move in that direction until the bubble collapses. It doesn’t matter which direction we’re pointed; we’re just going along for the ride. Unless…” he added as a crazy plan formulated in his head, “I’ve got an idea. If we turn the Hermes around and create a new warp bubble going in the opposite direction, the two warp fields should cancel each other out. That, or tear the ship apart. To be honest, sir, it could go either way.”

Just then, the emergency klaxon sounded, followed by an announcement by the computer. “Warning. Collision alert. At the present course and acceleration, the ship will collide with Jupiter in 60 seconds.”

“Well,” stated the captain, “I guess that makes my decision easy.” He nodded to the helmsman, who rotated the ship 180 degrees, and activated the Alcubierre Drive for a second time… but nothing happened… “Chief, we need that second bubble in 45 seconds, or we’re all dead.”

Chief Wheeler mumbled something about safeguards, grabbed a three-quarter inch box wrench, and straddled the Alcubierre Drive like it was a Brahma bull. He tore off the cover plate, said a quick prayer, and jammed the wrench between the power transfer coupling and the high voltage terminal. The ship seemed to stretch and twist as the cabin was filled with a terrible screeching noise – and then there was silence. Main power and artificial gravity had cut out. The emergency lights flickered on.

“Captain,” announced the helmsman, “we’ve returned to normal space, but there’s a fifty percent drop in air pressure in the engine room.”

The captain scrambled toward the engine room, but when he arrived, he was blocked by the sealed vacuum doors. Through the small window in the door he saw nothing but loose wires floating lazily in the center of the empty room. The walls were completely intact, but the Alcubierre Drive was gone, and the only person who could hope to understand what had happened had vanished along with it.

The captain watched the drifting wires sparkle in the bright sunlight that was entering the engine room through the starboard porthole. “Sunlight? There shouldn’t be…” Then he realized that the new warp bubble must have flung them back toward the inner solar system before collapsing. “Damn,” he said, as he watched a solar prominence arch past the porthole as the Hermes plummeted into the fiery furnace of hell.

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