Survival on an Alien World

Survival on an Alien World

In Short Story Issue Four by Steven Tennett

Survival on an Alien World

Star Date 2037

Dr. Kurt Reinhart Steinbeck walked aggressively and confidently across the control deck of the ship, skipping around the bulk of his Exotic Matter generator to stare impatiently out of the forward viewfinder at the approaching wormhole.

“That’s mein Baby,” he growled at the ship’s Number 2. “It is I, the great Steinbeck who will show you all who the master of space and time is! Einstein was a mere apprentice. Roy Kerr and Kip Thorne were merely the naive children who came after him! Ben Tippett’s TARDIS was an impossible fantasy! Only I, the great Kurt Steinbeck made things real, I, the creator of the Steinbeck Time Machine!”

“Excuse me, sir, we need to increase the Exotic matter generator output to increase our entry arc, or we will be exiting from the wrong place in space-time!” offered Silas Jones from his control console, his voice laced with a certain amount of trepidation.

“Of course, of course, you moronic arschloch!” bellowed Steinbeck. “Who do you think invented this thing? Do you take me for a complete fool who knows nothing about his own machine?!”

“No, Sir!”

“FOURTEEN PERCENT!” thundered Steinbeck “And not a percent more or less!”

“Sohn einer Hündin, can’t you read the instruments! Do it now, NOW you nincompoop! We can’t punch a hole through space-time on that level of energy! We’ll bounce straight off!”

The hum of the Exotic matter generator increased in crescendo as Silas manipulated the levers in a frenetic attempt to satisfy the scientist’s commands.

“Transverse controls! Transverse controls! No wobble you bloody idiot! If we don’t keep our entry smooth we’ll end up in another galaxy!” Steinbeck smacked his brow in a frenzy of anger with his ham-sized fist, before tearing at his silver locks in frustration.

Frantically Silas Jones manipulated the ship to match the rotation they required. Janet Kurton, the controller seated next to him, adjusted the speed to required limits. The wobble gradually smoothed out.

Ahead of them through the forward, the jaws of the wormhole were approaching rapidly, then it began to veraciously enclose and swallow the ship down a deep tunnel of swirling colours. They were in the wormhole.

Steinbeck peered forward anxiously into the swirling abyss.

Wrapped in a shell of normal space-time invoked by the Exotic matter generator, the ship plunged ever onwards, in what seemed like an endless drop down a tunnel of swirling colour, a raging vortex with seemingly no end.

Steinbeck towered in the centre of the deck, a look of concentration on his hard motionless face, his not inconsiderable jaw set in locked defiance, while the rest of the flight crew clung to their tables or sank into their chairs, seemingly to minimise their existence, hoping for an end to the nightmare. Then quite suddenly the montage of colour parted, leaving them gliding out into the pitch blackness of space and stars. They had crossed the wormhole.

“Over there, you imbeciles!”

Steinbeck’s great hand stretched out to the right hand corner of the viewing screen. His gesture brought to everyone’s attention the huge swirling arms of a spiral galaxy.

“There is mein Schätzchen! That is to be our future home!”

The only man on the flight deck not to cower at Steinbeck’s thunderous words now stepped forward from the shadows. He was Commander Marvin Peters, not as tall as the behemoth that strutted the deck before him, but wider in the shoulders, with powerful neck and short-cropped hair.

“Congratulations Dr. Steinbeck!” said Peters, levelling his gaze in Steinbeck’s direction, his penetrating grey eyes fixing onto Steinbeck’s wild blue ones, as the latter postured before him on his flight deck. “This was your moment of glory. I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted! Now we are back into my territory of normal space-time!”

They had reached the Andromeda Galaxy, known also as Messier 31.


Present Day – Star date 2051

The storm was bad the day that Dan Peters did his reconnaissance trip in the Terra Explorer. Dust, debris and swirling gases were whipping up the surface of the planet. Dan Peters gripped the controls and pulled up sharply to view the Dome from a distance, as he often did on these trips. The Dome was a massive edifice, a feat of engineering. It stood there implacably, shrouded in the middle distance by the storm, grey and silhouetted against the background sky like a floating wraith. Peters viewed it half in awe, half in admiration. It was their protection, their haven against the deadly gases of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and methane of an alien world.

For five years he and his team of terraformers had lived on planet Terra315, battling to change its climate and make it habitable by humans.

“I curse the day that skunk Kurt Steinbeck was born,” remarked Dan Peters to his sidekick Jack Towns, seated next to him in the Explorer. “That pompous, bombastic, self-glorifying nutcase got us to the wrong part of the Andromeda spiral. This planet was supposed to be life-supporting, not too hot, and not too cold – in the Goldilocks zone. It’s turned out to be more like the death zone, thanks to that fool bungling his calculations and choosing the wrong energy level in his time machine!”

Towns looked up laconically. “Who cares about Steinbeck. At least his group of engineers managed to build the Dome. That was a feat of lightweight engineering in itself. Some consolation I guess is that it put a roof over the heads of us terraformers who came after them. Anyway, let’s get back home for lunch. I’m hungry as a hunter.”

“And we have to meet with Amanda Blanchet straight afterwards in the Bio Lab,” pointed out Peters. “Things have come to a head. That fanatic Wilhelm Steinbeck has spent the last two months closeted up in his lab, working on what he refers to as a vital weapon for the defence of the Dome and our people from celestial attack. He calls it a ‘Death Ray Gun’.”

Towns chuckled in amusement. “Does he think little green men are going to be jumping out at us from behind the rocks of Terra315?!”

“At any rate it’s become pretty serious,” Peters continued. “Amanda wants to put an end to his antics right away. Steinbeck is all for us dumping the whole terraforming program, including Amanda’s plant development, and returning to earth using his father’s time machine.”

“Phew, what a nutcase!” observed Jack Towns. “I never trusted that fellow. Talk about a chip off the old block!”

Dan Peters could only nod in glum agreement as he steered the Explorer back to the Dome.


Amanda Blanchet was a woman of thirty-five, of medium height, with a dynamic and ignitable nature. Her brown hair was always neatly styled, as thrifty as her science, and hung to the nape of her neck. Her face was intense, her cheekbones pronounced, and her nose slightly upturned. (One of her staff had once referred to this as “cute” and received suitable admonishments, “Amanda style.”)

Her full lips, which generally carried a touch of irony in their lazy curvature, were now pulled up taut in a look of intense distaste. Her intelligent dark brown eyes, normally looking out steadily and imperturbably at the world, now flashed with anger.

“We will NOT abandon the photosynthetic bacteria generator, or the plant program!” she pronounced looking directly into the intense blue eyes of Wilhelm Steinbeck.

Wilhelm Steinbeck, son of the great inventor Kurt Steinbeck, was strutting around the floor of the Lab like a peacock, while the other scientists sat grouped around this spectre, looked on with some amazement.

“Mein Gott! Can’t you people see its time to leave this place, and that terraforming failed in five years! We’ve got to raus hier. We have to get the Time Machine back here from the nearest space station Gamma6 and return immediately to our own galaxy!”

Dan Peters stepped in: “Impossible Wilhelm. Too much time, skill and money has gone into this effort already. The Dome, the biospheres, the external gardens, Dr. Blanchet’s photosynthesis machines and her hydroponics programs, the lens systems for melting the polar ice by the permafrost guys, the work of the volcanologists…You expect us to just dump all this?? No way! Nobody’s leaving at this stage.”

“Your program’s failed!” shouted Steinbeck petulantly. “We must return to Earth, dummkopf!”

“Then go back,” said Peters. “I’ll arrange for you to join the next transport to the space station in two months time. Oh, and another thing, I want you to drop this work on the death ray gun. It’s just too dangerous.”

Steinbeck’s face had turned red with rage. “I won’t be leaving that way in disgrace, and I won’t drop the work!”

He turned to a nearby bench and with a savage sweep of his arm he knocked a couple of Amanda Blanchet’s hydroponic plants onto the floor. They struck with a resounding crash. Then he stormed out of the room in the direction of his lab.

Dan Peters spoke to Jack Towns and Terry Foster, Amanda Blanchet’s 2IC. “Guys, go up to the Control Room and call security. This time he’s gone too far!”

When security arrived, Wilhelm Steinbeck was not in his lab, neither was his new death ray gun. He had disappeared, and a search of the floors of the Dome for the missing miscreant yielded nothing.

Amanda Blanchet felt shaken by the incident, but decided to continue with her plant location program for the afternoon.

“Are you sure you’re OK?” asked Dan Peters anxiously.

“I’ll get through it. Thanks for your support, Dan. I’m just completing the loading of the plant wagon Botanic Rover with the tropical plants. Then I’ll be heading for Biosphere 3. Terry’s coming with me.”

“You know of course that John French in the observatory has detected a meteor shower in the vicinity this afternoon? Hadn’t you better postpone your trip? There’s also that mad fool Steinbeck lurking around, and who knows what’s on his mind.”

“No we can’t delay,” said Amanda firmly. “Terry will take a firearm just in case. I’ll also get him to bring extra oxygen tanks, in case we run into a problem out there.”


Wilhelm Steinbeck encountered his first piece of resistance as he bent his huge frame to duck down close to the walls of the parking bays at the base level of the Dome where the terraforming vehicles were kept.

“Hey, you there, stop!” A security guard was running in his direction. Without a word Steinbeck coolly swung the short stock of the lightweight death ray gun to his shoulder, squinted down the aiming mechanism, aligning the sights up with the middle of the guard’s body, and triggered a burst of deadly rays.

The guard literally melted like plastic, shrivelled and fell forwards on what was left of his face, gun clattering across the floor. A portion of the Dome structure behind him melted and dripped in the intense heat of the rays.

Steinbeck stopped and dragged the body into the shadows then skirted the walls until he got to the section where Blanchet’s plant roving vehicles were located.

A few minutes later Amanda Blanchet and Terry Foster arrived down the main lift shaft. In the half-lit bay Amanda closed the covers of the plant wagons of the Botanic Rover and she and Terry got into the front cab. Trailing their tandem of wagons, they drove out through the air lock in the direction of Biosphere 3.


“Steinbeck’s killed a guard!” Peters shouted bitterly. He stood in the control room with Jack Towns and head of security, John Weathers. “He’s armed and dangerous. I want this base locked down on a security alert until he’s found. John, you know what to do.”

“I’m pretty sure he wants to stop Amanda and her work. She isn’t safe either,” Towns emphasised.

“You’re right. Contact Amanda right away by radio and get her back here! No excuses, you hear,” ordered Peters.

Jack Towns was just reaching for his radio transmitter when all hell broke loose. All three men were flung off their feet. Around them people, tables, chairs, pens, papers and equipment went crashing to the floor. The Dome shook ominously.

The time was exactly 1:32 pm and Terra315 had just been struck by the comet known to the astronomers in their observatory as 621P. Only in their haste to track the meteor shower, the astronomers had overlooked its approach.

The north-western hills had been lit up by a meteor shower fit for a king, a mesmeric dancing set of star-like lights dragging their tails through the nitrogen rich atmosphere; but when the comet cleared the lip of the planet it appeared in a full dazzling splendour, thundering down in a godly arch of vengeance; a blindingly bright yellow light that smashed into the northern hills between Biosphere 1 and 3 with such a thunderous crash that the whole planet quaked, and a ball of orange flame erupted like a universe in expansion from the bowels of the earth. Blue white beams shot in straight lines skyward from this devastation.

Dan Peters was back on his feet giving out orders in a clear authoritative voice. The dazed and shocked men and women of the Dome followed suit, rubbing sore limbs, righting their chairs and equipment and doing their best to return to their normal activities. In ten minutes Peters stood in the office of Alexander Tippet, facing a big, heavy-set man who launched himself eagerly out of his chair to come and shake his hand.

“I need a favour, Alexander,” said Peters without preamble. “As head of structural engineering I want you to take charge of the whole Dome’s operations for a while. Complete your analysis to see if there is any damage to the Dome and send your damage report back to Roy Collins in Control. I have to go out and find Amanda Blanchet.”

Tippet gave a low whistle. “What, in that hell-hole? Good luck.”

Initial reports by the structural engineering team indicated that the Dome’s structure and oxygen supplies were still intact, though this would have to be confirmed by Tippet’s full report later on. Dan Peters allocated basic jobs to his control staff and turned to Jack Towns.

“Get the Terra Explorer ready Jack and let’s get suited up. We are going out now to look for Amanda. Amanda did take those extra oxygen cylinders with her, didn’t she?”

“I’ve bad news for you on that front,” Towns answered. “I thought of that myself and checked down at the oxygen cylinder storage depot by the parking bays, only to find out from Luke Miller that she hadn’t taken them.”

“What the hell! So they only have the standard tanks aboard the Botanic Rover then. That gives them about four hours of oxygen, unless they managed to reach Biosphere 3 in that time, where there are extra supplies.” Peters stared worriedly down at the digital reading of his watch.


Same day 14:35 pm

Dan Peters and Jack Towns drove out into a landscape of conflagration and devastation. A burning crater glowed in the north, marking the comet’s impact site. A swirling plume of dust covered most of the distant horizon, rising into the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

“Visibility is poor,” observed Dan Peters. “I’m putting on the forward lights. If we hit one of these chunks of comet, things could go badly wrong. The on-board thermometer’s showing a rise of 8 degrees. Hello, what’s that?”

Strange rays seemed to be emanating vertically up from an area in the centre of the dust storm. It was as if a torch had been turned on, shining rays of blue-grey light upwards into the sky from a point where the collision had taken place.

Damned odd thought Peters.

“There!” shouted Towns jubilantly. “I see the Botanic Rover!”

“Or what remains of it,” said Peters dejectedly. They advanced along an embankment, close enough to see the wreckage of the Rover below them on the slope. It lay with its main cab on its side, the plant wagons lying in zigzag disarray behind it, plants strewn out onto the planet’s surface. The cab of the Rover seemed partially impacted; its right driver’s door was opened and pointing skywards.

Suited up, they pulled up alongside the Botanic Rover and got out to investigate. Jack Towns was the first on the scene, Peters trailing, carrying a spare oxygen cylinder.

“There’s no sign of Terry or Amanda,” said Towns dejectedly. “But there’s blood on the impacted door of the Rover which looks as if it came from Terry. All the oxygen cylinders have gone, and there are tracks leading away from here in the direction of Biosphere 3.”

“What have we here?” asked Peters. “It looks like Terry’s gun.”

He stooped to pick it up out of the dust and debris.

“I knew it all along, Jack. There’s something fishy going on here. That monster, Wilhelm Steinbeck, is out here – and it’s my guess that he’s got Amanda.”


Earlier same day 1:32 pm

When the comet struck, Amanda and Terry were catapulted sideways as the Rover’s cab was flung on its side by the blast. Terry’s head struck metal. As he cradled his head blood oozed from between his fingers from a nasty cut on the side of his head.

“Suit up, suit up!” yelled Amanda. “We’ve got to get out of here. Is the cab breached? Where are the extra oxygen cylinders?”

“Sorry, sorry,” mumbled Terry. “I’ve just realised I forgot to pack them!”

“Never mind, let’s take the extra two that are not used for cabin pressure, from the Rover. That gives us one each.”

Within the pressurised cabin of the Rover they donned their suits, helmets and tanks and clambered out onto the planet’s surface. What they failed to notice was that from the disarray of the plant wagons behind them, a person had been flung out onto the surface of the planet from between the plant racks of one of the plant wagons. He was now on his feet, staggering towards them, the death ray gun grasped firmly in his right hand.

“Halt!” commanded Steinbeck. “Foster, you can drop that weapon – slowly. Place those oxygen cylinders on the ground in front of you.”

“What’s on your mind, Wilhelm?” asked Amanda Blanchet mildly, as they turned to face him.

“You and your conniving terraformers will be ending your activities as of today.”

“Look, you can let us go,” said Amanda Blanchet. “You don’t need us. Commander Peters has already said he would get you sent back to planet Earth.”

“Do you think I’m going to leave the rest of you to carry on with this crazy scheme that eats up years of people’s lives? No way! You are the brains behind this outfit, Blanchet, and it’s you who has to be stopped.”

Steinbeck slung the spare cylinders over one shoulder then jerked the barrel of the gun impatiently in the direction of Biosphere 3, his suit compass pointing the way. “Now move, both of you!”

Biosphere 3 finally came into view through the dust clouds. It was damaged already by the comet blast, but Wilhelm Steinbeck spent some joyful minutes punching holes through the structure with his ray gun until the whole place was awash with water, and soil and plant fragments, lying scattered across the floor.

“That is what I think of your photosynthesis and hydroponic systems!”

“You’re a crazy lunatic,” growled Foster.

“Careful, Terry,” warned Amanda Blanchet. “This guy is a few cards short of a full deck.”

“You can both start walking towards the comet impact crater.” Steinbeck pointed a direction with the gun barrel. “You’re going to get a taste of hell! You can both march in the direction of that fire!”


Final countdown

Dan Peters knew, with a terrible foreboding, that the race was on.

In a frantic dash for Biosphere 3, he and Jack Towns dodged between smoking comet debris along rock-strewn slopes to reach their destination, guiding and manipulating the Terra Explorer in a way it was never designed to be handled.

With their onboard compass reading locked onto their destination they finally came to an area where the lights of the Explorer picked up the dim form of Biosphere 3 ahead. Then the swirling gases parted temporarily to reveal a scene of devastation before them. On the southern face the bleak struts of the destroyed biosphere reached up like plaintive claws into the alien sky. Parts of the structure remained intact but Peters couldn’t fail to notice the melted material and the holes punched in the structure’s side.

“This is the work of Steinbeck, without a doubt.” He reached over and gripped the shortwave radio transmitter. “Amanda! Amanda! Are you OK? Where are you?” he called for the hundredth time. A gentle hiss of static was his only response.

“It’s all over,” said Peters wearily, turning to Towns.

Then a sudden ear splitting shriek broke up the radio static, like all the torn souls from the nether regions of innermost hell screaming in one accord. The chill of dread that went though the two men was instantaneous.

“Did you get a fix on direction?” asked Peters.

“Over there,” responded Jack Towns, gesturing through the viewfinder towards the distant dusty glow of the meteor crater and the strange skyward pointing rays.

“Quick!” shouted Peters. “There may still be time!”


On the lip of the main comet crater in the smoking debris, Wilhelm Steinbeck called a halt. Beyond them was a rock-strewn slope leading downwards into the abyss of final devastation, from the centre of which bright orange fire leapt from the impact crevasse into the sky. Blue-grey rays climbed skyward from every chunk of rock in the edifice. The heat and smoke was becoming intense, and only their suits and oxygen systems spared them from it.

“This is where we part company,” said Steinbeck, levelling the death ray gun at Amanda Blanchet.

“You’ve both got about ten minutes of oxygen left, but you’re not going to need it! Du bist tot!”

Amanda looked squarely into the gloating face of Wilhelm Steinbeck. Her intense dark brown eyes, reflecting the orange glow, were focussed on his. “You’ll pay the price of murder, Steinbeck.”

He aimed down the sighting mechanism at Amanda and squeezed the trigger.

At the same instant Terry Foster launched himself at Amanda, pushing her backwards over the lip of the crater down the gravel-filled and rocky slope. Amanda slid and fell headlong down amongst the rocks.

The burst of energy released from the death ray gun literally tore Terry apart. He had time only for one last devastating shriek of pain.

Time stood still as Steinbeck stepped over Terry’s body and looked curiously over the edge of the crater, down into the smoke and dust. He could see no sign of Amanda. He spent many minutes peering inquisitively down into the abyss. Then he laughed.

“Why waste time on you, bitch! You’re oxygen’s gone anyway!”

Lowering the gun, Steinbeck turned to leave. He had taken only a few steps when a shot rang out through the gaseous atmosphere. The bullet struck him in the left chest spinning him round. The death ray gun slipped numbly from his grasp as he dropped forward onto his knees. Then he collapsed onto his face.

“Was zur Hölle!”

Two figures were running towards the lip of the crater. Dan Peters had Terry’s gun clenched in his right hand, and Jack Towns carried the spare oxygen cylinder.

They stopped where Steinbeck had fallen. Peters grasped the oxygen cylinder from Jack Towns and slung it over his shoulder. He handed Jack his gun.

“Watch him, Jack. Better get that death ray gun away from him too in case he revives. I’m going down there to look for Amanda. Her oxygen must have run out by now.”

Dan Peters slipped and slithered down the slope until he reached the first large comet fragments. Towns watched until he disappeared from sight.

“Amanda!” yelled Peters into his short range radio transmitter.

Silence.

He started scouting around behind the rocks, fully expecting to find Amanda’s body. From the nearby comet fragments strange bubbles of gas escaped and lifted skywards. They were the source of the blue-grey rays that permeated the skies above the comet crater.

On an impulse he stared down at the external gas level meter on his chest, and recoiled in disbelief. The oxygen level had climbed. What the hell? Impossible, there must be a mistake here!

“Amanda!” he cried hoarsely.

Silence.

Then a voice crackled weakly over his radio, an impossible cry from the distant vacuum of far space.

“Over here, Dan…”

Dan Peters searched frantically behind each chunk of rock in turn until he finally found her.

She was lying in a curled up foetal position with her face pushed forwards towards a hot slab. The end of her oxygen pipe was grasped in her left hand, detached from her empty oxygen tank, and held within the bubbling stream of rays that emanated from the slab.

“I may have broken my right arm in the fall,” gasped Amanda.

Peters unslung his spare oxygen tank and replaced the cylinder on her backpack. He opened the outlet valve and gently took the hose from her gloved fist and reattached it to her backpack system. She lay there gasping for breath for some minutes before Peters helped to ease her onto her feet.

He placed one arm around her waist as gently as he could; taking care not to bang the bad arm, then led her back up the slope to the lip of the crater, her helmeted head lying tight against his shoulder, her right arm hanging limply.

“Thank you, Dan – for my life. I owe it to both you and Terry.”

“I need you around, Amanda, and I’m just beginning to realise how much!”

Peters shielded her from the sight of Terry’s mangled body as they walked back to where Jack Towns was standing. The ray gun was clenched in Jack’s right hand, Terry’s gun hooked in his utility belt. He was staring distastefully down at the body of Wilhelm Steinbeck.

“Help me with Amanda, Jack.” We’ve got to get her into the Terra Explorer. Then you can radio base to get a team out to collect Terry and Steinbeck.”


Finale

Dan Peters and Jack Towns were joined by their fellow team members that night, in the main lounge used by the admin and control staff. The group sat around in a circle, talking excitedly and animatedly with each other.

The deep booming voice of Alexander Tippet cut through the general hubbub, and brought everyone to immediate and respectful silence.

“There is plenty of damage to patch up, but I know we can do it if we set our minds to it!”

“The worst damage is to the Botanic Rover and Biosphere 3,” observed Peters. “Thank goodness the other biospheres and permafrost installations were far enough away to avoid being affected by the comet strike. There was minor damage to the water piping for the hydroponics around Biosphere 3. The Construct Bots have already been sent out to start work on repairs to Biosphere 3. The pipe engineers are repairing the pipes.”

“I’ve now sent out the recovery team to collect the Rover and bring it back to the Dome to work on it here in our workshops in the parking level. We will also be recovering what’s left of the plants – Amanda will be in charge of that. “

“You all know by now how that hero Terry Foster lost his life,” Peters added quietly. “There will be a memorial held in his memory for those who knew him. As for Wilhelm Steinbeck, he is being buried in a common grave. The legacy of his father’s time machine is his only vindication.”

“We still don’t know exactly how Miss Blanchet managed to survive,” said Mark Andrews, one of the lab technicians.

Amanda Blanchet laughed. She had been sitting quietly amongst the men clothed in a burgundy coloured evening gown and unpretentious jewellery, her right arm supported by a sling. She wore red lipstick and her soft brown hair lay tight against her face as she surveyed the group with a gleam in her brown eyes.

“How was I able to survive in an alien world with insufficient oxygen?” she asked.

“Yes, how?” enquired Tom Dorney curiously on her left.

“You’ve heard what happened out there, and how Terry saved me by pushing me into the comet crater – only to be blasted by that fiend Steinbeck. Steinbeck had held all the cards. He had our spare oxygen cylinders, and had destroyed the oxygen photosynthesis machine in Biosphere 3. Our oxygen supplies were critically low when we got to the crater. When I fell backwards down the slope, I damaged my arm but managed to crawl behind the rocks where Steinbeck couldn’t see me. Luckily he chose not to come after me or shoot at me, figuring that I’d soon die of oxygen deprivation.”

“How did you realise your answer to a lack of oxygen lay in the comet?” asked Dan Peters incredulously. He sat casually opposite her, dressed in blue shirt and jeans, leg hooked over the arm of his chair.

“I was almost out of oxygen, and preparing to die. Then I remembered one of those scientific reports on the Rosetta comet,” continued Amanda.

“Europe’s Rosetta mission detected molecular oxygen (O2) venting into space from the icy comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2015. Whether the oxygen was locked into the comet’s body, and released by the heat of the sun, or whether, as a chemical engineer from Caltech, Konstantinos P. Giapis suggests, the comet was actually an ‘oxygen factory’, the idea of surviving off the comet’s released oxygen rays came to my mind. I was hoping to hang on just long enough until you found me. And you did!”

“I’m sure glad you’re back here,” said Tom Dorney. “You’re a major key to this whole operation’s success.”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dan – and of course, Terry.” Amanda Blanchet looked directly into the eyes of Dan Peters, then leaned forward and placed a ring into his hand, folding his fingers over it.

“This is a family heirloom,” she added. “It’s been in our family for generations. Now I’m giving it to you. Look at the inscription on it.”

Peters lifted the ring up against the light.

“Ad Astra Per Aspera! I will treasure this.”

“To the Stars Through Difficulties.” translated Amanda, with an ironical smile.

Peters turned to face the group of scientists, his eyes shining.

“We have to fix the problems caused by Steinbeck, and go forwards from here. We have to achieve our future for a habitable world. This cataclysm may have set us back, but we are not out of the game yet!”

“My father, Marvin Peters, had a saying that he got from Brazilian-born English scientist Peter Medawar, ‘science is the art of the solvable’. I think we have proved that he was right!”

About the Author

Steven Tennett

I am a published writer on the Internet, with two pieces out there: “A Cry from Zimbabwe” for Ayn Rand Institute and an article on the Zimbabwean economic situation for IPN and Heritage Foundation.
I have written a series of local articles in Zimbabwe (around 10 or so) which have been published in the Zimbabwe Independent and Daily News newspapers over the last couple of decades.