The Martian Solution

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

A torrent of sea water gushed from the six meter in diameter penstock into the Sirenum Ocean, Mars’ largest body of water. Twenty-eight minutes earlier, that sea water had been in the South Pacific Ocean, before beginning its long sub-space journey from the Atafu intake gate on Earth, to the Aonia discharge gate on Mars. This Mass Transfer Conduit (MTC) was one of twelve that had been offloading excess water from Earth in an effort to avert the coastal flooding caused by runaway global warming.

Mars’ four living Presidents stood together and watched the historic event on holovision. The announcer counted down in unison with the one hundred thousand spectators crowding around the Aonian observation deck, “Three, two, one, that’s it, twenty quintillion liters. Mars is now officially self-sustaining. With our oceans fully established, the ecosystem will be stable for the foreseeable future. Congratulations to President Tholus for making this day poss…”

Using the remote control, President Tholus turned off the holovision and raised his glass to his three predecessors. “No, that’s unwarranted praise, my friends. We all know that most of the credit belongs to President Pettit. Congratulations, Number Fourteen.”

“Thank you, Number Seventeen,” said Pettit, who also raised his glass. “And a special thanks to Al Gore, for laying the groundwork for the greatest con job in the history of humanity.” The four men toasted Al Gore, and enjoyed a hearty laugh. “It was almost too easy,” continued Fourteen. “When Emperor Yoo found those climate models published in the twenty-first century by Gore’s pseudo-scientists, he practically begged me to siphon off the top sixty meters of Earth’s oceans before the melting glaciers flooded his Summer Palace in Zhanjiang.”

“It amazes me,” commented Sixteen, “that Earth politicians put soooo much faith in ‘scientific’ studies where the grant money was contingent on giving the government agencies, or the ‘Independent Foundations’, the answers that they wanted, even if they had to use tricks to manipulate the data. But, let’s not forget, that if Fifteen didn’t act when he did, they might have caught on to us.”

“Yes, that was a close one,” reflected Fifteen. “When Earth’s global sea levels started dropping, some of the ‘deniers’ started making noise again. I quickly lifted the Antarctic gate from the Weddell Sea for ‘maintenance’. I linked it with the Gate we had left on Venus, back when we were terriforming Mars. We pumped so much carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere that we actually started causing the glaciers to melt. After three months, we put the Gate back into the water, and no one suspected a thing. And let’s not forget Sixteen. Setting up those mini-gates on Titan was visionary. It’s what truly gave us independence from Earth. With Titan’s hydrocarbons pouring into our refineries, our industrial revolution took off exponentially.”

“Yes, my friends,” said Seventeen, “We’ve achieved a lot in the last few decades. A stable ecosystem, unlimited energy, and prosperity and independence as far as the eye can see.” President Tholus walked over to his desk and picked a small wooden humidor. “Have a cigar, men. I just got a shipment in from Acidalia Planitia.” They all lit up and took long drags. Tholus blew a smoke ring and added, “Damn, it’s a great day to be a Martian.”


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Wolf-Rayet 104

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Doctor Letum stood on the bridge of the Galaxy Explorer, staring at the forward viewscreen anticipating his first up-close look at Wolf-Rayet 104. It was not easy getting to this point, he mused. Ten years of filing applications, dozens of interviews, endless bureaucracy. “We’re sorry, Dr. Letum,” they would say, “but we have a finite number or warp capable starships, and they are all being allocated to expeditions to G-type main-sequence stars with potentially life bearing planetary systems. We cannot squander our limited resources solely for the purpose of academic research. Yes, yes, we know that it’s pre-supernova. Yes, yes, we understand the potential benefits to astrophysics. But seriously, Doctor, have you even seen the dynamic holographs from Rho Indi? They’re simply breathtaking. And Rho Indi is only 86 light years from earth, not 8,000. Perhaps you can try again next year. We are adding two new starships to the fleet. Maybe we can piggy-back you onto one of the older ships as the fall-back mission, in case the primary target turns out to be a dud.” If he hadn’t married the sister of the Secretary of Space Exploration, he presumed that he’d still be studying Wolf-Rayet 104 using the deep space array on the far side of the moon.

Doctor Letum was snapped from his rumination by the captain of the Galaxy Explorer, “Disengage the warp drive, Mr. Thomas, and turn on the main viewer.” There was a momentary inertial lunge as the ship returned to normal space, but Letum maintained his balance with a reasonable degree of respectability. When the viewscreen came to life, there was one star shining brightly.

“Captain,” said Dr. Letum, “these are not the right coordinates. Wolf-Rayet 104 is a binary system. There should be two stars.”

The captain consulted the ops readouts and replied, “We’re at the right location, Doctor. Maximum magnification, Mr. Thomas.” A few seconds later, the original star was off-screen, and a faint ribbon of gas could be seen spiraling into the gravity well of a black hole. “Ah, there’s the problem, Doctor. Your star already went nova. Sorry, I guess you missed the fireworks. Doctor, are you alright? Doctor?”

Dr. Letum stared at the viewscreen in horror. “Oh my God. This was not supposed to happen for another hundred thousand years. I thought we had more time. Quick, Captain, launch the probes. We need to find out the black hole’s axis of rotation.”

“I don’t understand, Doctor.”

“When Wolf-Rayet 104 went supernova, it omitted extremely powerful gamma ray bursts from both poles. Before we left earth, my data indicated that one of those poles was oriented directly at our solar system. If that’s correct, then earth has less than 8000 years before the radiation kills every living thing in the solar system.”

The following day, their worst nightmare came to fruition. The black hole’s axial inclination was only 0.005 degrees off sol’s position. “Is that enough, Doctor?” ask the captain.

“No,” Letum replied. “We need to find out how much time earth has. If we go back to one light year from earth, and can still see Wolf-Rayet 104, then they’ll have a least a year to prepare. Then we’ll keep jumping in one light year intervals until we can’t see the star any longer. That’ll be how much time we’ll have.”

When they came out of warp, one light year from earth, they focused the telescope on Wolf-Rayet 104. They saw two stars. “Thank God,” said Letum. “At least we have a chance!” However, as they watched, one star began to brighten rapidly. Seconds later, gamma rays vaporized the ship.


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New Frontiers

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

A year before the New Horizons spacecraft was schedule to fly by the dwarf planet Pluto in July 2015, NASA awakened it from its scheduled hibernation for equipment checkout and trajectory tracking. During the systems check of the LORRI long-range visible-spectrum camera, the scientists received a hint of something very strange. There appeared to be a faint object between Pluto and Charon, Pluto’s largest moon. At first, scientist speculated that it must be an optical illusion created by one of Pluto’s other three known moons, Nix, Hydra, or the recently discovered S/2011. But those moons were all accounted for. One of the specialists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory suggested that the object was a fifth moon trapped in Pluto’s L-1 Lagrangian point. Later, an imaging specialist from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center suggested that a geyser-like volcano had erupted on the face of Charon that was facing Pluto, and that the ice particle fountain was responsible for the faint object. The debate came to an abrupt end when all communications with the New Horizons spacecraft was inexplicably lost.

By and large, scientists working for NASA expect to encounter occasional ‘glitches’ in lengthy space missions, so there was no immediate panic. The mission commander simply pulled out the Troubleshooting Manual and began a meticulous process of fault tree analysis. However, it quickly became clear that this was no ordinary glitch. The New Horizons spacecraft was equipped with dual redundant transmitters and receivers. In addition to the high-gain antenna, the spacecraft had two low-gain antennas and a medium-gain dish. It was inconceivable that there could be simultaneous failures in all of the communication systems. Suspicion was subsequently directed at the ships two flight computers. Again, built-in redundancy provided for independent Command and Data Handling systems. Eventually, extensive testing of identical earth-based flight computers eliminated any design and programming anomalies. Finally, as the months passed, it was becoming increasing probable that the New Horizons spacecraft had been impacted by a rogue Kuiper Belt object.

Just as all hope was being lost, communication was reestablished through the aft low-gain antenna, which had only been used during near earth phases of the mission. With only a month to flyby, the team began an exhaustive effort of rebooting and reprogramming the spacecraft. Progress was slow due to the nine hour round trip latency, but two days out, the spacecraft returned from the dead.

When the cameras were once again focused on Pluto, it was suddenly apparent that Pluto was not an ice cover rock. It was artificial, and apparently teaming with life. Thousands of small artifacts buzzed around Pluto like a halo of giant space-bees surrounding a hive. The faint object between Pluto and Charon turned out to be a 17,500 kilometer long tether, locking the two objects together as they swung around their common center of gravity every 6.4 days, presumably in an effort to create artificial gravity. The PERSI near-infrared imaging spectrometer revealed that Charon was significantly hotter than Pluto, suggesting that it was a power plant supplying Pluto’s inhabitants with life sustaining energy. Nix and Hydra were donut shaped satellites with diameters larger than 100 kilometers. “I guess Dr. Tyson was right after all,” remarked an analyst. “Pluto isn’t a planet.”

As the New horizon neared closest approach, the tiny ‘moon’ S/2011 left orbit and flew toward the spacecraft. As it neared, it became obvious that S/2011 was a large spacecraft. When it was approximately ten kilometers away, a bright light flashed in one of its three nacelles, and the New Horizon spacecraft went dark for a second time.


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Apex Predator

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The regiment’s remaining survivors set up a parameter around their crashed transport ship. “Lieutenant Colonel,” called out Corporal Kuroki as he climbed over the twisted remains of a cargo hold bulkhead. “Colonel Searcy is dead too, sir. Looks like you’re the CO.”

“Understood,” replied Bourke. “Do you know if the pilots got out a distress call?”

“They did, sir. But the ETA for evac is 15 days. We have enough food, but the transport’s water tank ruptured on impact. We only have enough potable water for a couple of days.”

“That shouldn’t be too big a problem, Corporal. This may be an arid planet, but I can see an oasis in the distance. It can’t be more that a couple of klicks from here.”

“Yes, sir. But according to the planetary briefs, the oases on Inculta are all guarded by an unidentified apex predator. It is strongly recommended that they not be entered.”

“Need I remind you, mister, that we are United Earth Marines? We are the galaxy’s ultimate apex predator. Now, take a squad and recon the oasis and report back.”

Several hours later, Lance Corporal Swensholm approached Bourke. “Sir,” she said, “Corporal Kuroki reported in. He said he found a small lake in the center of the oasis. Then we lost contact. I haven’t been able to raise anyone in his squad.”

Getting more angry than concerned, he said “Instruct Sergeant First Class Craddock to take a phaser platoon to the oasis and burn a thirty meter wide path to the lake. Tell him to locate Kuroki’s squad and secure access to the lake using whatever force he deems necessary. And just to cover all the bases, have the maintenance engineers uncrate a few Samson Assault Vehicles and stage them just outside the oasis.”

The following morning, Bourke stood in the open turret hatch of a Mark III Samson. He surveyed the still smoldering path that his platoon has scorched through the dense overgrowth of the oasis. He could see the glistening lake less than a kilometer away. “Still no contact with Kuroki’s or Craddock’s teams?” he asked.

“No, sir,” replied Swensholm. “It’s like they simply vanished. Sir, do you really think there’s an apex predator in there?”

“Unsure, Swensholm, but I’m going to find out.” With Bourke in the lead Samson, the three assault vehicles began to move single file down the center of the newly created path. As the Samsons lumbered toward the lake, the rapidly rotating proximity sensors scanned the nearby vegetation for any evidence of alien creatures. The radar controlled pulse cannons were set to automatically discharge at the first sign of any predator more that 50% larger than a human being. When the vehicles pulled up to the lake, Bourke spotted a dozen soldiers lying on the ground. He drew his hand phaser and swept a 360 degree arc, looking for something to shoot at. To his disappointment, he saw nothing. He climbed down from the Samson and approached his fallen men. Although their body armor was unscathed, there was nothing left of his men but skeletons, as though their flesh had been consumed by acid. One soldier lay on his back, his hollow eye sockets staring upward. Suddenly, a stabbing pain shot up Bourke right arm. He instinctively slapped at a mosquito-like insect on his right hand. Unaffected by the blow, the insect continued walking toward his forearm. “What the Hell?” He was dead before his body hit the ground.


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Zero Degrees of Obliquity

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Gregori Milankovitch relaxed in his folding camp chair, admiring the dull red sun as it skimmed along the cloudless horizon. “What a beautiful sunset,” he casually remarked.

“Why do you insist on calling it a sunset?” snapped Mrs. Milankovitch. “The sun never sets up here. It just races around the horizon every thirty-eight minutes. It makes me dizzy. I’m beginning to hate this planet. I vote we head back to base. There’s nothing up here but rocks.”

“That’s not true, dear. We found fish skeletons earlier today, and the nearest source of water is over 200 kilometers away. How do you purpose we explain that conundrum to Tom? This planet doesn’t have tectonic plates to raise a continent from the sea floor.”

“Maybe a tsunami,” she suggested. “This spinning top of a planet must have some quirky geology.”

“We’ve had seismographs on Alpha Adhemar for over a decade. The planet is dead. No earthquakes, no volcanoes, no nothing. It’s just a solid rock covered by a vast ocean.”

“Except for this content,” she countered, in an attempt to gain some advantage in the argument.

“Well, sure. But that’s because we’re at the geographic North Pole. If we were further south, we’d be a thousand meters beneath the twenty kilometer oceanic equatorial budge like all the other mountain tops.”

Returning to the fish debate, she offered, “How about a tsunami created by a comet or asteroid impact?”

“Oh, pleeeease. Did you forget about Beta Adhemar,” he replied, pointing toward the bright ‘star’ on the horizon opposite the sun.

“What about it?”

“It’s a super gas giant locked in orbital resonance with Alpha Adhemar. Every twenty-two years, its highly elliptical orbit brings it to perihelion such that it lines up with Alpha Adhemar’s aphelion. If there were any Apollo objects crossing Alpha?s orbit, Beta would have vacuumed them up eons ago. Give it up, Khristina. We need to stay here until we can figure out how these fish managed to walk hundreds of kilometers.”

“Maybe they are flying fis?” Khristina came to an abrupt stop when the sun dipped below the horizon. “What the hell just happened? Why did the sun set?”

“Oh my God,” exclaimed Gregori as his heart started pounding when he realized the implications, “the planet’s axis must be tipping over. Beta must have destabilized us. Quick, into the TRAM. We need to get back to the base before the sea reaches the assent vehicle.”

More than halfway to base, they received a garbled message that the rising tide was approaching fast, and they couldn’t wait another rotation. Tom started to say something else, but the transmission was lost. Twenty minutes later, Khristina and Gregori watched helplessly as a vertical contrail split the sky.

“There goes our ride,” remarked Gregori as he brought the TRAM to a stop. But along the horizon, he could see a column of dust being kicked up by a vehicle heading their way.

Ten minutes later, a second TRAM towing a trailer pulled alongside. Tony Salvataggio smiled, “Someone call for an ark?” he asked as he indicated the four person Ocean Explorer resting in the trailer’s cradle. “Space Search and Rescue said they’d have an Ocean Lander here in about six months. Well, don’t just sit there looking dumbfounded, climb aboard, we only have another hour before this rock becomes an undersea plateau.”


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