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WORLDS WITHOUT END: THE MISSION
By Shaun Messick
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Twenty-three years after the disappearance of the Mars I space shuttle, NASA receives a mysterious transmission from Adrian Palmer, the commander of the mission. Adrian's brother, Kevin, wastes no time funding the Mars II rescue mission, commanded by Jake Palmer, Adrian's son. Jake and Dr. Steven "Skip" Hendricks, a NASA physicist, travel through a wormhole that Skip believes was the reason the Mars I crew disappeared. They eventually crash-land on the planet Terrest and are thrust into a dangerous conflict. The native Terrestrians are at war against a super-race of humans called the Gnols, led by Koroan Chast. The Terrestrian's struggle is futile because of the godlike abilities of the Gnols. Now, the only hope mankind has may rest on a 2000-year-old prophecy discovered in an ancient temple on Terrest. But before the prophecy can come to pass, Adrian and Jake must first stop the Gnols from attacking Earth and enslaving the human race.
“Daddy, are you going to bring back a Martian?”
The crew giggled. Adrian smiled and felt a hole in his heart nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon. Oh, how he missed his son. “We’ll see, son. ... If we can find one.”
Jake clapped his hands together. “Sweet!”
Adrian laughed and then made eye contact with his brother.
“Well, little bro, are you ready for tomorrow?” Kevin asked.
Adrian looked around at the other members of the crew. “I think we are.”
Doc slapped him on the back. “Yes, sir. Your brother is going to be the first man to set foot on Mars.”
Adrian felt his face flush red. He was a little embarrassed that it was he who was given the honor to be the first human being to step on the red planet.
“I’m sure that doesn’t sit well with your copilot,” Kevin said.
“Don, knew what he was getting into when he accepted the copilot position. He didn’t have to come on this mission,” Petey interjected.
Kevin nodded his head in apprehensive agreement. Adrian knew that his brother was aware of the political posturing Don had tried to use with his contacts in Washington. Don used those acquaintances to try and get Adrian scrubbed from the mission and himself promoted to commander.
“Nonetheless,” said Kevin, “the whole world will be watching tomorrow, and you, little brother, will go down in infamy.”
Adrian shook his head again. “No, Kevin, we all will.”
Kevin looked around at the rest of the crew. “You’re right.”
Adrian was about to speak again, when the shuttle trembled.
The signal phased in and out for a few seconds. “Adrian, ... wh ... going ... on?”
Adrian looked around, and then Don’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Adrian, you and the rest of the crew better get up to the flight deck now!”
Adrian quickly stood up and ordered the rest of his crew to their stations. As the rest of the crew took off out the recreation room, he looked at the screen. “Jake, I’ll talk to you tonight once we figure this out.”
“Daddy, I ... c ... here y ...”
The shuttle shuddered again. The force this time knocked Adrian to his knees. Looking back toward the screen, he looked at his brother and his son. For some reason, he felt compelled to say it. He stood up while the shuttle continued tremble, the signal continuing to phase in and out. “I love you guys. And Jake, I will see you soon.”
“Adrian, get up here now!” Don shrieked.
Before he took off for the flight deck, he heard his son, “Daddy ... Daddy! What’s wrong? Don’t go! No! I lo-”
And then, the signal disappeared.
Scott sat at his station in the payload-deck with a lump in his throat. The shuttle was shaking too much, and he couldn’t maintain control of the satellite arm. He manipulated the shuttle’s arm using its joysticks. “Gloria, once I get the arm back in, I’ll start the winch to pull you in.”
“What’s going on, Scott? The station is starting to jerk violently too!”
“I’m not sure. ... But I’ll get you in here soon.”
“Wait,” Gloria said. “I can see something just above the port side of the shuttle. I ... it looks like some sort of ripple with flares of bright light coming out of the middle of it.”
“Strange,” said Scott, still trying to get control of the arm. Suddenly, Scott was jolted forward, causing him to hit the joysticks that controlled the arm. The arm swung violently. “Gloria!”
Adrian had successfully made it to the flight deck, securing himself in his pilot’s seat on the other side of Don. He looked out the plasma shield. His eyes went wide when he saw the gigantic ripple directly ahead. “What the-”
In a flash, the shuttle was violently jerked toward the distortion. Adrian heard Scott yell. “Scott! Is Gloria okay?”
Before Scott could reply, Gloria spoke, “I’m alright, Adrian. I felt the jolt too. The arm barely missed my head, and right now I’m about ten feet from the space station. But I’m getting pulled. Did you fire the thrusters?”
“Negative. We’re checking into it.”
Adrian turned to the rest of the crew and asked, “What was that?”
“Uh ... Commander, remember the first numbers that I had were to the power of a thousand.” said Isaac.
“Well, those numbers have just quadrupled. And to put it in laymen’s terms, that thing’s got gravity and a lot of it!”
“What?” questioned Doc as he turned to face Isaac.
Adrian turned back and looked at the distortion. “Are you telling me, we’re being pulled into this thing?”
“We are,” Isaac answered.
Adrian quickly shouted orders. “Don, fire the reverse thrusters. Scott, get Gloria in here now before that things swallows us up!”
Don fired the reverse thrusters, and the crew felt another jolt. But for some reason, they weren’t moving. Adrian turned and looked at Sean. “Sean, send a distress communication to Houston.”
“Roger that,” replied Sean as he turned to his computer and began pressing applications on his screen.
Adrian was starting to become frightened. The shuttle wasn’t moving at all. Between the force of the reverse thrusters and the force from the ripple, the shuttle sat motionless in space.
Sean spoke frantically, “Sir, there’s a problem with the communication satellite on the shuttle.”
“What do you mean, there’s a problem?”
Sean swallowed and shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m not getting a signal. It’s like it’s not even there.”
Before Adrian could answer, Gloria spoke. “Adrian, I think the shuttle’s arm knocked the satellite off because it’s floating past me.”
Adrian turned his seat back around to face the ripple in front of the shuttle and slammed his fists down onto his console. Suddenly, there was another shudder, and Mars I began to move toward the ripple again. “We’re moving again! Don, apply more power to the reverse thrusters!”
Don did as he was ordered, as he punched in the commands. “It’s no use. We’re being sucked into that thing.”
The crew in the flight deck sat wide-eyed with their mouths open as the ripple came to within fifty yards of the shuttle. “Don, more power!” cried Adrian.
“I can’t! I’ve already got the thrusters to full power!”
Adrian looked at the distortion again. They were moving closer to it. It almost looked as if a giant sea creature was beginning to engulf the entire shuttle. He frantically thought and said, “What if we rerouted all of the power in the shuttle to the reverse thrusters?”
“That might do it!” Sean responded.
Adrian turned and shot a look at Sean. “Do it then!”
Adrian felt the shuttle shake violently as it continued to move closer and closer. Alarms buzzed and beeped everywhere within the flight deck. Then Petey spoke anxiously from his station in the nuke-deck. “Uh ... Commander, we’ve got a problem down here.”
“With the shuttle shaking so badly, one of the rods has become lodged in the reactor core. I need to shut down all of the power to remove it. If I don’t, the core is going to melt down, and then we’re going to have bigger problems to worry about.”
Adrian had come face to face with a decision he dreaded he would have to make since becoming the commander of man’s first mission to Mars; placing the crew in danger of one disaster in order to avoid another. If he ordered Petey to shut down the power, they wouldn’t have enough juice left in the thrusters to get away from the nightmare that was about to engulf them. On the other hand, if he ordered that all power be rerouted to the reverse thrusters, he ran the risk of a core meltdown.
Don yelled, “Commander, if we don’t switch to auxiliary power now, the core is going to meltdown ... Commander!”
Adrian was not only dealing with his responsibilities as commander, he was fighting with his personal feelings as well. “Commander!” Don screamed.
“Petey, shut down the reactor and reroute all auxiliary power to the winch. And Scott ... get Gloria in here fast!”
Don gave Adrian a puzzled look. “But, if we reroute all of the auxiliary power to the winch, we won’t have time to reroute the power back and shut the bay doors?”
“You don’t think I know that, Don!”
“Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way of your duty ... COMMANDER!”
“I won’t leave Gloria out there to get sucked into this thing while we shut the bay doors and try to escape!” Adrian paused and shook his head. “I won’t let anyone in the crew get hurt. You’re all my responsibility!”
“Then you may have just killed us all!” Don screamed.
Adrian did not want to make this decision. And then ... he heard Gloria.
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